Whether the Upper Providence team wins or loses, manager Ben Ludwig knows his players are going to go home to their community and be “rock stars.”
The team, which is representing Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic Region, may have lost its first game, 8-2, to Oregon, but it still has a chance to be the first Pennsylvania team to win a Little League World Series title since 1960. Upper Providence is also the first team from Pennsylvania to compete in Williamsport since Red Land in 2015.
Ludwig understands how big that is, especially since he has been attending the Little League World Series since he was about five years old. Since they’ve been in a “bubble,” he’s not sure how much his team has grasped the significance yet.
The big stage didn’t faze his team at first. Led by Jalen Bowman, Pennsylvania got off to a fast start on the mound and in the batter’s box. He opened the game with an RBI hit for a 1-0 lead. Bowman then threw 12 pitches to his best friend and catcher Sean Kenney to retire the first three Oregon batters.
Bowman continued to efficiently retire batters until the third inning, when Oregon pitcher Ben Robertson crushed a three-run home run. Despite giving up his first home run on the Little League World Series stage, Bowman just tilted his hat and went back to work.
Pennsylvania got the next two batters out with the same play — throws from second baseman Carter Bunn to first baseman Timmy Burns. Pennsylvania closed the gap to 3-2 when Aidan Ludwig’s single scored Jack Strzeminski.
In the fourth inning, Pennsylvania gave up five runs. Ben Ludwig made a visit to the mound to give his team a pep talk.
“We’ve been down more than this before,” Ludwig said over ESPN’s broadcast before rearranging the field to try to get something going against Oregon.
Ludwig moved his son Aidan to pitcher, and the team got the next five batters out.
“They’ve showed resilience all the way, and they responded there,” Ludwig said. “We just need to let this kind of settle with them and then remind them that even though it’s a bigger stage with the Little League World Series, we’ve been here before.”
Pennsylvania couldn’t overcome the six-run deficit. In the end, the short lapse in defense was Pennsylvania’s downfall. The two teams each finished with three hits, but Pennsylvania had six errors to Oregon’s two.
Ludwig doesn’t have a set starter for Pennsylvania’s next game on Saturday (8 p.m.), but he thinks it will be one of three players — Sam Buckley, who didn’t pitch at all; Tommy Sergio, who only threw a few pitches and has been “lights out throughout the region;” or Aidan Ludwig, who was effective at the end of the game.
Now that the team has one Little League World Series game under its belt, Ludwig hopes things will settle down. He saw how his players responded in the Mid-Atlantic Regional, where they struggled to hit in its first game but came back to win the tournament, and he trusts they’ll be able to rebound again.
“As coaches, we’re still positive,” Ludwig said. “If anyone comes out of the loser’s bracket, I think we have the stuff to do it. So kind of onward and upwards from here.”