SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — The Coon Rapids/Andover (Minn.) and Bowling Green (Ky.) teams shared a bus from Indianapolis to Williamsport after qualifying for the Little League Baseball World Series.
They shared a stage, winning their regional tournaments at the same location and opening the tournament against each other.
But Jameson Kuznia made sure there was no sharing the spotlight.
After providing the biggest hit required to get Coon Rapids/Andover into the World Series, Kuznia came up with what his manager described as Kuznia’s best pitching effort to date in a 2-1, first-round victory Friday afternoon, Aug. 16.
Kuznia and Carson Timms combined on a two-hitter, Tyler Phillips provided the game’s biggest hit, and Jaxon Knutson contributed the timely defense to get the Minnesota and Midwest Region champions through to Sunday’s winners’ bracket game against Loudoun South from Virginia.
“Since we started our district tournament, this is probably his best pitching performance,” Coon Rapids/Andover manager Greg Bloom said.
Coon Rapids/Andover pulled out its regional title on Kuznia’s late, clutch home run.
Bowling Green, from the southern edge of Kentucky, won the Great Lakes Region by scoring 35 times in three games.
The World Series opener, however, was about pitching and defense.
After the first game in each bracket resulted in a no-hitter, the second U.S. game featured just two hits for each team.
Phillips got the scoring started in the second inning when he tripled to the right-field fence to drive in Dylan Bloom, who led off the inning with a walk.
“It felt good to get the early lead,” said Phillips, who added the vital second run on a wild pitch.
Kuznia gave up only one hit in the first four innings and a second before exiting when he reached his pitch limit with two outs in the fifth.
“Jameson’s a very good pitcher when it comes to mixing his pitches,” Greg Bloom said.
Bowling Green scored its only run in the third inning with the help of three errors, two on throws.
Pinch hitter Nick Simpson doubled over the left fielder’s head for Bowling Green with one out in the fifth. Before waving Timm in from left field to take over on the mound, Greg Bloom chose to issue an intentional walk to William Alexander, putting the go-ahead run on base with two out.
Luke Idlett provided a scare on Timm’s first pitch, but in a flash, Knutson ended the threat. The shortstop dove to his left to grab a line drive that appeared destined for center field, grabbing the ball just above the dirt for the final out.
“I was kind of playing toward third because of a possible bunt,” said Knutson, who made two tough plays while Timm was retiring all four batters he faced. “I had extra to cover, but I saw it off the bat.”
Greg Bloom said he was not surprised by what happened next.
“I thought he had a chance when I saw him start to dive,” Bloom said. “He’s made those plays before.”
Similar plays joined the pitching performances in establishing early storylines at this year’s series.
“That’s what makes Little League what it is; to see those plays,” Bowling Green manager Rick Kelley said.
Bloom said it was just another example of the combination of deep pitching and solid defense that he thinks is most responsible for the team being in its current position.
With Coon Rapids/Andover fans chanting “Minnesota” after key plays, Kuznia provided the pitching that got the team headed toward the state’s first win in Williamsport since 2007. It was also just the second opening-round victory win for a Midwest team since 2000.
“I’m just happy that I can contribute,” Kuznia said.
He showed he can do so in more than one way.