Forced to play just 17 hours after a tense loss to Japan, Taiwan’s Little Leaguers recovered just in time against a good team from Puerto Rico to stay alive in this year’s Little League World Series.
Coming off a 3-2 loss to Japan on Sunday night, the team of players from Chung Ping Elementary School in Taoyuan quickly fell behind the Caribbean champions 3-0 midway through the third inning in an elimination game on Monday.
With starter Lee Chen-hsun getting knocked around and Taiwan’s lineup seemingly asleep, going hitless in the first two innings, the team appeared on the verge of a quick exit, but the momentum shifted in the bottom of the third, when Taiwan picked up their first run on a walk, a single to right, and a ground-out.
An inning later, Taiwan took a 5-3 lead with a four-run rally, keyed by an RBI single by left-fielder Yu Ching-fong and a two-RBI base hit by first baseman Huang Chao-wei.
Lee then settled down, allowing only two runners in the fourth and fifth innings, and he gave himself an insurance run in the bottom of the fifth when he drove home Lan Huai-chien with a single to right.
Taiwan still had to endure a few anxious moments in the sixth, when the Puerto Rico loaded the bases with two outs and reliever Yeh Tung-jua walked in a run, but Yeh retired the next batter on a comebacker to the mound to secure the 6-4 win.
Before the game, Taiwan’s coach told his team to forget about the loss to Japan.
“I told them that they performed well last night [Sunday], so not to think too much about that loss,” Lee Kuo-chiang was quoted as saying on the Little League World Series Web site.
His message was simple: “Focus on the game today [Monday] and do your best.”
That they did, but Taiwan still have a long road to travel if they hope to claim their first Little League World Series title since 1996.
Next up was an elimination tussle yesterday against Latin American champions Aguadulce Cabezera Little League of Panama.
Panama beat Puerto Rico 9-4 in the tournament opener, lost to Mexico 13-0, then topped Canada 12-0 to advance to the game against Taiwan.
The winner then plays the loser of the tie between the two unbeaten international teams, Japan and Mexico, for a spot in the International Championship game, the final test before the World Series title game.