After a week in South Williamsport, Pa. taking part in everything else that goes with the Little League Baseball World Series and two afternoons of sitting in the Volunteer Stadium dugout watching the rain fall, Taylor North manager Rick Thorning knew his team was eager to get back on the field.
“We’ve been here for nine days now and we’d had one game,” Thorning said. “With all the rain that was here, the kids just wanted to play.”
Following a rocky start and a lengthy rain delay, Taylor North made all the necessary plays, combined a big swing and some little things on offense with a brilliant relief effort by Gavin Ulin to rally from five runs down and reach the Hank Aaron winners’ bracket final with a 6-5 victory over Wylie from Abiline, Texas.
The Michigan and Great Lakes champions remained undefeated while advancing to Wednesday’s 7:30 p.m. final against Honolulu, the West Region champion from Hawaii.
Taylor North got there by wiping out on a five-run deficit on a second-inning grand slam by Cameron Thorning, Rick’s son, and two more runs that resulted from aggressive baserunning in the bottom of the fifth.
That was enough because Ulin came in to pitch 4.1 scoreless innings of relief for the win before Thorning got the last out with the tying run on second and the go-ahead run on first.
“Hats off to Michigan,” Texas manager Reggie Regala said. “They changed to the right pitching at the right time.
“We couldn’t get the sticks going after that.”
Wylie was threatening to break away with a 3-0 lead and two runners out and just one out in the top of the second inning.
The inherited runners scored, but Ulin made sure no one else crossed the plate.
“Five-nothing is a deficit we haven’t had this year,” Rick Thorning said. “ … We knew as long as we kept it there, we could manage to get up to the five or six runs like we did.”
The 5-foot-2, 98-pound Ulin made sure Taylor North kept it there. He allowed two singles and two walks while striking out four and getting help from a double play that Cameron Thorning started at second base and Lucas Farner turned at shortstop.
“Gavin got really good off-speed stuff,” Rick Thorning said. “And, for the size frame the kid has, he’s got good velocity on his fastball. He surprises people.”
The manager knew a quick pitching change might be needed coming out of a three-hour, 17-minute rain delay that started in the middle of the first inning after Texas had already scored twice.
Starter Jackson Surma returned to the mound with “a short leash” from his manager because of the difficult task of trying to resume a pitching appearance after the break.
Ulin provided the needed relief.
“He just kept us off balance,” Regala said. “He came in with a good fastball. He moved the ball around. He came in with a curve, We just couldn’t capitalize on him when he came in.”
It was the second long wait for the two teams, who sat around three hours Sunday waiting to see if they could play when rain arrived just before the original scheduled game time.
Taylor North players had snacks in the dugout and got a little muddy having fun in the bullpen, but manager Thorning declined the option of returning to the dorms.
When the game resumed, Taylor North left the bases loaded in the bottom of the first and fell into the 5-0 hole after 1.5 innings.
Ethan Van Belle, the leader of Friday’s opening win, and Farner, who finished 3-for-3, each had singles in the bottom of the second.
Farner’s two-out single and Ulin’s walk loaded the bases for Cameron Thorning, who lifted a high grand slam to right field to cut the deficit to one.
Texas held the lead into the bottom of the fifth when Surma singled and Jakob Furkas doubled to start the winning rally.
Jaxon Shufeldt grounded to third base. Surma timed his break for the plate with the throw to first base.
Surma beat the throw home and drew a wild throw that allowed Furkas to come around from second with the winning run.
Cameron Thorning took over with two out and a runner on second in the sixth inning. After hitting a batter with the first pitch, he got the game-ending strikeout.
Furkas and Thorning each finished with two hits, giving Taylor North seven different players with multiple-hit games in the first two games of the series.
Tom Robinson is a freelance writer.