Never re­ally at a loss

Even LL teams with no ti­tle as­pi­ra­tions get en­joy­ment from be­ing in con­so­la­tion bracket

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Tim Eck­ert

SOUTH WILLIAMSPO­RT — The bleach­ers at Vol­un­teer Sta­dium were nearly full when Ken­tucky took on Aus­tralia, but to out­fielder Jack­son Idlett the whole thing felt low-key.

The pres­sure was off for the Mon­day morn­ing game and the but­ter­flies had set­tled. Both teams were out of the run­ning for the Lit­tle League World Se­ries ti­tle af­ter 0-2 starts.

“It’s al­most like back­yard base­ball,” Idlett said.

Early elim­i­na­tion doesn’t mean an early trip home for most teams at the se­ries. They stick around to play in con­so­la­tion games, pit­ting one elim­i­nated in­ter­na­tional team against an elim­i­nated team from the U.S. side of the bracket.

Af­ter en­dur­ing an ex­haust­ing string of high-stakes base­ball games just to get to South Williamspo­rt, and the stress that comes with play­ing be­fore thousands of fans — not to men­tion the TV au­di­ence — it’s of­ten a nice re­turn to pure and sim­ple base­ball.

For Idlett, who played spar­ingly through­out this Bowl­ing Green, Ky., team’s run to the Great Lakes Re­gion ti­tle, it also was a chance to see the field. He went 2-for-4 with a dou­ble at the plate, driv­ing in a pair of runs in a 4-1 Ken­tucky win — not that the fi­nal score mat­tered much.

“It just felt re­ally good be­cause I didn’t re­ally play much in state or dis­tricts or even re­gion­als,” Idlett said. “But I got to go out there and do my job, and that’s what I did to­day.”

Lit­tle League World Se­ries suc­cess can of­ten come down to which teams ad­just best — and fastest — to the stage it has played on, and Ken­tucky just never got going. The bats went un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally silent on this group, which scored just two runs in two tour­na­men­topen­ing losses.

Just like that, Ken­tucky’s bid for a ti­tle was over. But the con­so­la­tion game of­fered the play­ers a chance to re­group.

“The first two days, it didn’t hit me,” Luke Idlett, Jack­son’s brother, said. “I had but­ter­flies the first game. As the week went on, it hit and just felt amaz­ing. I wasn’t as ner­vous as I was the first game.”

Af­ter a 4-3 de­feat against Ore­gon in a con­so­la­tion game Tues­day, Ital­ian man­ager Francesco La­manuzzi said through an in­ter­preter that the real re­ward was sim­ply get­ting to South Williamspo­rt. The con­so­la­tion game sim­ply pro­vided his play­ers a last chance to carve out me­mories.

Fed­erico Tam­burini made one when he ranged into shal­low left field from his short­stop po­si­tion to snare a popup with his back turned to the in­field, all while avoid­ing the left fielder, who was also charg­ing hard to make the play.

The 4-foot-10, 94-pound in­fielder earned a heap of praise from well-known base­ball re­porter and an­a­lyst Tim Kurkjian on ESPN’s broad­cast.

Asked in the postgame news con­fer­ence what his fa­vorite take­away from the Lit­tle League World Se­ries would be, Tam­burini didn’t hes­i­tate.

“The catch,” he said through an in­ter­preter. “The catch for sure.”

The con­so­la­tion games also give teams from the U.S. bracket a chance to play against op­po­nents from other coun­tries.

Af­ter com­plet­ing their game Mon­day, the Aus­tralian and Great Lakes teams met in a hud­dle near the mound, ex­chang­ing hats with one an­other and snap­ping pho­tos.

“It’s just cool be­cause you get to meet new peo­ple, and it’s some­thing that you’ve never ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore,” Jack­son Idlett said.

But don’t be fooled by all the postgame ca­ma­raderie. You don’t get to the se­ries if you don’t have a com­pet­i­tive edge.

As Luke Idlett spoke about the things he en­joyed about play­ing Aus­tralia — which shared a build­ing with Ken­tucky in the Lit­tle League bar­racks where teams stay — his brother Jack­son moved closer to the mi­cro­phone, ready to jump in af­ter his brother failed to state Ken­tucky’s main goal against the Aussies.

“Win,” Jack­son said.

TOM E. PUSKAR/AP

River Ridge, La., third base­man Marshall Louque (23) is greeted at the dugout by man­ager Scott Fra­zier, catcher Ryder Plan­chard, coach Kevin Johnson and team­mate Pey­ton Spadoni af­ter record­ing the fi­nal out against El­iz­a­beth, N.J. in a Lit­tle League World Se­ries game.

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