Twice, Jackson Surma walked to the plate with runners in scoring position in the biggest game of his young life. Both times he delivered.
Surma drove in four runs and Ethan Van Belle struck out eight as Michigan beat Ohio 5-2 on Sunday in the championship game of the Little League World Series.
“The first one, I knew I had runners on second and third,” Surma said. “There weren’t two outs, so I needed just something in play. He threw me a curveball, I sat on it and drove it to left. The second one, he threw me a high fastball and I went up there and got it.”
The team from Taylor North Little League delivered the first LLWS title for the state of Michigan since 1959 when Hamtramck National Little League won it all.
“We’re just excited we’re mentioned with them,” manager Rick Thorning said. “To be in that group and say that a team from Michigan won the LLWS, it still doesn’t sound right when you say it.”
Both Michigan and Ohio are from the Great Lakes, marking the only time clubs from the same region played in the championship. That was because international teams didn’t compete in the LLWS for the first time since 1975, due to travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Little League allowed two squads from each U.S. region to fill out the 16-team field.
The pandemic also led to tight restrictions on attendance, with just 1,017 the in stands on Sunday. The famous sliding hill behind Lamade Stadium in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, was mostly empty.
Michigan jumped out to a three-run lead in the first after Surma's two-run single and an RBI groundout by Jakob Furkas. Surma's next clutch hit, a single to center, came in the fifth.
Ohio had plenty of chances. It loaded the bases in the first on a pair of walks and a single by JJ Vogel, but Van Belle struck out Levi Smith with two out to end the threat.
The team from West Side Little League in Hamilton, Ohio, loaded the bases again in the third with nobody out. The next two batters struck out looking before Chance Retherford was picked off at third base as he headed toward the dugout after strike two.
Ohio got its first run in the second. Chase Moak led off with a triple and Cooper Clay singled him home to bring the score to 3-1.
Gavin Ulin came in to relieve Van Belle in the fifth and got into a jam with runners on first and second with one out. He induced a double-play grounder.
In the sixth, Ohio loaded the bases again, as Ulin hit two of the batters, then walked in a run. But Retherford flew out to center to end the game.
“I was a little nervous at the end. It was a great feeling after I got out of it,” Ulin said. “When I hit that kid (to load the bases) and then I had to face their best hitter in the lineup, I was a little worried there. But once I got out of it, got him to pop it up, I was so happy.
“It’s beyond words.”
Andrew Destin is a sports journalism student at Penn State University.