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Virginia's first LLWS appearance in 25 years rests on defense, luck and pitching depth

Virginia's first LLWS appearance in 25 years rests on defense, luck and pitching depth

The last time a Virginia team qualified for a spot at the Little League World Series was 1994. This was also the year Disney released the original Lion King and Forrest Gump made his monumental run around the United States. 

Twenty-five years later, the Loudon South Little League team will be making their run (or hopefully, runs) around the bases. 

It all started back in South Riding, Va., where the team won 16 consecutive games to take the Southeast Region tournament title. Pitcher Justin Lee fell to his knees after the final out of game 16, where Loudoun South dominated Peachtree City, Ga. 12-2, and advanced themselves to the Little League World Series. 

Led by head coach Alan Bowden, this experience had been a dream for both the players and the coach. Bowden's father played in the Little League World Series 65 years ago, he's told reporters, and he told PennLive that now coaching his son in the tournament is a dream.

“I know I talk with my dad about his experience a couple times a year,” Bowden told PennLive. “Just being here and meeting all these international teams and other teams from around the country is really special.”

The team entered their first LLWS game against New England's Barrington Little League team on Friday, August 16th. With tenacity and what appeared to be just sheer coolness, the Southeast regional champions completed the 52nd no-hitter in LLWS history, crushing the Rhode Island team 3-0

Bowden credited the team's defense and depth according to LittleLeague.org.

“We pride ourselves in defense,” he said. “We practice, practice, practice defense and we feel like the real staple of our team is defense.”

Loudoun South didn't stop there. Lee returned to the mound and completed the 53rd no-hitter in LLWS history, striking out six and walking only two. The game ended shortly after as Lee and the team reached the Little League's margin-of-victory rule. 

“I have no words. It’s just, I guess sometimes you get lucky, and this week has been very fortunate for me,” Lee said according to the Washington Post after the victory. “I’ve been getting to meet a lot of cool people. This whole thing, being here is all great, and getting to throw two no-hitters feels amazing.”

The Virginia team's next matchup will be against West champions Hawaii. Central East Maui baseball team most recently completed a 6-0 victory over Elizabeth, N.J. on Monday.

"I'm really really proud of the kids. The way they've executed and the way they've pushed down the media and the big crowd and just gone out and done their job," Bowden told reporters after their last win. "I have told them, you know look around enjoy the moment this is the biggest game of your life but it's still the same game you play back at home ... and they've done a fantastic job of staying focused. And I've never been prouder of a group of kids."

MORE BASEBALL NEWS:

The Big Twenty: The Mystics win the 2019 WNBA championship

The Big Twenty: The Mystics win the 2019 WNBA championship

For the next three weeks, NBC Sports Washington will be rolling out the 20 biggest stories in DMV sports in the past 20 years. Here is No. 18.

Not all championships are equal.

Every title tale has its own unique wrinkle that differentiates their story from those that preceded it and the ones that will eventually follow. 

The Washington Mystics 2019 WNBA Championship had its own nuances that will likely never receive the same attention of the other DC championships.

But let’s make it clear, the Mystics championship was far different than the Capitals' Stanley Cup Championship in 2018 and the Nationals' World Series title that occurred concurrently. 

Unlike the Capitals, the Mystics were not a team that had a decade of success that was yearning to breakthrough. Unlike the Nationals, they were not an underdog, where the team had overcome obstacle after obstacle and break through walls to get to the title.

The Mystics were just good – check that – historically exceptional when they won the franchise’s first championship. They weren’t just a championship team, they shattered records and re-defined how the game is played in the WNBA.

No team could get in their way.

They were led by one of the best basketball players in the world in Elena Delle Donne. Who, despite having to wear a knee brace, a face mask and wrap around her back for three separate injuries, won the WNBA’s Most Valuable Player award en route to her first league title. While doing so, she also finished the year as a member of the elite 50-40-90 club (field goal, 3-point and free throw percentages) that only eight other basketball players, men or women, have accomplished in a single season. 

But the rest of the roster is how they won the championship. Kristi Toliver brought the championship pedigree, Natasha Cloud brought the swag, Ariel Atkins and Aerial Powers brought the youthful energy.

Emma Meesseman, the original Mystic of the entire group (and arguably the second-best player on the team), came off the bench.

Their coach Mike Thibault was one of the most accomplished in WNBA history.

What they accomplished a year removed from falling short in the WNBA Finals was staggering. ‘Run it Back’ was their motto, but it was a stampede on their path to glory. 

Here’s just a sample of their record-breaking year:

  1. 13 victories by 20 points or more (WNBA record)
  2. Eight victories by 25 points or more (WNBA record)
  3. Beat the Connecticut Sun by 43 points (4th largest margin of victory ever)
  4. 316 3-pointers made (WNBA record)
  5. 89.3 points per game (3rd best all-time)
  6. 21.8 assists per game (WNBA record)
  7. Offensive rating of 113.2 (WNBA record)
     

There are more, but the point has been made. There are not enough words to describe how dominant this Mystics team was. 
 

1.20.20 Rick Horrow sits down Nick Kelly, Vice President of Partnerships, Beer Culture, and Community for Anheuser-Busch InBev

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USA TODAY Sports

1.20.20 Rick Horrow sits down Nick Kelly, Vice President of Partnerships, Beer Culture, and Community for Anheuser-Busch InBev

Edited by Tanner Simkins

In the latest edition of Rick Horrow's Sports Business Podcast, Rick sits down with Nick Kelly, Vice President of Partnerships, Beer Culture, and Community for Anheuser-Busch InBev.



LISTEN TO THE FULL PODCAST HERE

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