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Potent Hawaii highlights 4-team field in LLWS semifinals

August 27, 2021 GMT
Honolulu's Kaikea Patoc-Young (9) celebrates on his way back to the dugout after scoring on a wild pitch as Taylor, Mich., pitcher Ethan Van Belle (13) walks back to the mound during the first inning of a baseball game at the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa., Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021. Hawaii won 2-0. (AP Photo/Tom E. Puskar)
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Honolulu's Kaikea Patoc-Young (9) celebrates on his way back to the dugout after scoring on a wild pitch as Taylor, Mich., pitcher Ethan Van Belle (13) walks back to the mound during the first inning of a baseball game at the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa., Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021. Hawaii won 2-0. (AP Photo/Tom E. Puskar)
1 of 5
Honolulu's Kaikea Patoc-Young (9) celebrates on his way back to the dugout after scoring on a wild pitch as Taylor, Mich., pitcher Ethan Van Belle (13) walks back to the mound during the first inning of a baseball game at the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa., Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021. Hawaii won 2-0. (AP Photo/Tom E. Puskar)

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — It’s championship weekend for the Little League World Series.

In this tournament affected by COVID-19, four American teams -- and no international clubs, because of travel restrictions -- will play in the semifinals Saturday.

Here’s a look at those games:

SOUTH DAKOTA vs. OHIO, 12:30 p.m. EDT

— Sioux Falls Little League, South Dakota, Midwest Region

How they got here: South Dakota entered the tournament as a B team, second place in its region, to advance to within a game of the championship. The team owes much of its success to pitching ace Gavin Weir, who threw to all but one batter in a no-hitter early in the tournament and then came back in his next start and tossed a no-no by himself. While South Dakota’s offense has generated just six runs in three games, by far the fewest of the remaining teams, its pitching staff has yet to allow a single run.

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Players to watch: The bad news for South Dakota is Gavin can’t throw this weekend because his pitch count ran too high in Wednesday’s 1-0 win over California. But Saturday’s probable starter, Maddux Munson, allowed just one hit in a complete-game shutout of Oregon his last time out.

— West Side Little League, Hamilton, Ohio, Great Lakes Region

How they got here: Ohio began the tournament with a nail-biting win over Tennessee in extra innings, then got blown out by California in the second round, 9-0. While many teams may have lost their motivation after a demoralizing loss, Ohio rose to the challenge. After defeating Louisiana and New Hampshire in the losers’ bracket, the club beat California 4-2 in a rematch to advance to the semifinal. Ohio is seeking to become the first ever team from the state to win the LLWS.

Players to watch: Right fielder Chance Retherford flashed his speed against California when he raced around the bases for a go-ahead, two-run triple. At 5-foot-9, Chance is one of the tallest players in the tournament and is an imposing force at the plate. First baseman JJ Vogel, who stands at 5-8 himself, led the team with a three-run homer against Louisiana.

HAWAII vs. MICHIGAN, 3:30 p.m. EDT

— Honolulu Little League, Hawaii, West Region

How they got here: Hawaii has been unstoppable throughout the LLWS, having outscored its opponents 22-4 in the first three rounds of the tournament. After coasting by Connecticut in the opening round, “Da Boys” looked vulnerable for a brief moment against Nebraska, when they surrendered a game-tying home run in the bottom of the sixth. Hawaii quickly recovered to post eight runs in the next inning and take home the victory in extras. Starting pitcher Ryan Keanu threw a one-hit shutout against Michigan in Hawaii’s last game, a 2-0 victory.

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Players to watch: Ryan is a two-way star and plays in the infield when he is not pitching. Although he will be unable to pitch, he is a potent middle of the order bat that could be critical in the game. Shortstop Kekoa Payanal is one of the best contact hitters in the tournament and paced the team with three hits against Nebraska. Kekoa and his brother, Pele, are a combined 7 for 15 at the plate in the tournament.

— Taylor North Little League, Taylor, Michigan, Great Lakes Region

How they got here: Michigan defeated Florida and Texas to begin the tournament, but was knocked into the losers’ bracket when it lost to Hawaii. Michigan responded with the best offensive performance of the tournament in a 15-6 drubbing of Texas. Michigan players will now have to face the only team that has beaten them in order to make it to the championship.

Players to watch: Catcher Cameron Thorning hit a home run and a double in Michigan’s win, and will look to continue his strong performance in the LLWS. Thorning is also a pitcher and could impact the game as closer. Michigan’s ace, Ethan Van Belle, is slated to start against Hawaii.