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The United States champions from Lufkin, Texas, will challenge the International champions from Chinese Taipei for the world championship of the 38th annual Junior League Baseball World Series at noon today at Taylor’s Heritage Park.
The game features the two finalists of the 13- and 14-year-old division of Little League Baseball. Admission is $5 per carload, which includes parking. Heritage Park is located at 12111 Pardee Road.
The finale of the weeklong international tournament also will be shown live to a worldwide audience on ESPN2.
The Asia-Pacific regional champions from the Shing-Ming Junior Little League from Taoyuan, Chinese Taipei, are the defending World Series champions. In fact, teams from Chinese Taipei have won the JLWS the past five years – and have not lost in six World Series. The Asia-Pacific region was formed in 1999. Teams from Chinese Taipei have qualified for the series the last nine years in a row. Before their current five-year run, they won the world championship in 2010, making it six out of eight years.
The USA Southwest regional champions from the Lufkin Little League are in the finals of a World Series for the second straight year. Lufkin won the USA championship last year in the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, before finishing second overall to Japan. Six members of the current Lufkin team played in that tournament. This is the fifth straight year a team from Texas has played in the JLWS and the 14th time in the last 16 years. Lufkin is making the 20th appearance in Taylor for teams from the Lone Star State. Texas teams have won three world titles, the last coming from El Campo in 2006.
Chinese Taipei defeated the Mexico national champions from the Trevino Kelly League in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, 10-0. The Asia-Pacific champions scored four runs over the first three innings and then added six runs in the fifth inning, when the game was halted by the 10-run mercy rule. Kuan Lun Huang hit a home run and knocked in two runs. Tzu Yu Tseng went 2-for-3, scored and had two RBI. He also pitched a two-hit shutout, striking out four. The win was the third in the World Series for Chinese Taipei (3-0), which also had victories over Aruba and Australia during the week. Mexico finishes 3-2.
Lufkin won the USA championship of the JLWS on Saturday night with a 5-2 victory over the USA West champion Manhattan Beach, California. Sam Flores' two-run homer put Lufkin on the board in the first inning. After Texas scored solo runs in the second and third innings, California cut the lead to 4-2 with a two-run single by Ben Gneiser in the fifth -- one of four hits off Texas pitcher Hunter Ditsworth. But Texas added an insurance run in the seventh. Bebo Hinojosa went 2-for-3 and knocked in two Texas runs. California players combined for a rare triple play. Texas is 4-0 entering the world championship games. Lufkin defeated Illinois and Georgia once each and California twice. California finishes 3-2.
The Junior League World Series is the “older brother” of the more famous Little League World Series for 12-year-olds in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The JLWS was founded in Taylor in 1981 and has been hosted by the Metro Detroit city since.
The World Series was originally for 13-year-olds. The first World Series had just four American teams. The Junior division eventually expanded to include 14-year-olds as well, which enabled more nations to compete for regional championships and qualify for the World Series.
This year, 12 teams completed during the weeklong tournament – the most in JLWS history. Teams now come as far away as Australia and the Asia Pacific, but this year Little League International authorized a Michigan District 5 champion to play as a host team to even up the pools at six American teams and six International teams. The Brownstown Township all-stars served as the first host team.
Greg Bzura, a retired banker and former Taylor City Councilman, founded the JLWS and remains the director in the event’s 38th year. He credits hundreds of volunteers with making the World Series happen.
A number of players have gone on from the Junior League World series to play professional baseball and other sports. Former and current pro ballplayers to play in Taylor have included Freddy Galvis, Dylan Cozens Gary Sheffield, Eric Bedard, Brett Myers, brothers Jose and Javier Valentin, Erubiel Durazo, Chad Hermansen, Derek Bell, Delino DeShields, Shannon Withem, Adam Loewen and Chris Brock. Other JLWS alums include current pro football quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes II and Matt Cassel (of the Detroit Lions), former National Hockey League players Chris Dingman and Steve Reinprecht and former college football star and current coach Mark “Bo” Pelini.
Tommaso Ardoni, a member of the Europe/Africa regional champions from Emilia Romagna, Italy, won the 2018 JLWS Home Run Derby. The derby had several changes this year. There were two phases, both of which involved coaches pitching to players, as opposed to players hitting off a tee as in the past. The first phase, which started Saturday morning at the senior field at the Taylor South Little League complex, reduced the contenders to five finalists. Those five advanced to the final phase, which was held after the conclusion of the USA championship game on World Series Field. Ardoni emerged as the winner. The other finalists were Stefano Paulucci of Canada and Keelon Danje, Garrett Arias and BJ Rincones of Aruba.
For more information about the Junior League World Series, visit the website www.cityoftaylor.com/worldseries. The World Series has an active Facebook page, www.facebook.com/juniorleagueworldseries. The World Series’ Instagram page is active during World Series week. Search jlws_taylor.