SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, PA. – A big hit in the second inning and a huge defensive play in the fifth enabled Coon Rapids-Andover to edge Bowling Green, Ky., 2-1 on Friday afternoon in the opening round of the Little League World Series.
The Coon Rapids-Andover Little League all-star team (CRALL) — the first Minnesota team to reach the World Series since 2010 — scored its first run on a triple by Tyler Phillips over the left fielder’s head. It drove in Dylan Bloom, who had walked to open the inning. Phillips came home on a wild pitch with two outs.
The triple was one of only two hits by CRALL — a first-inning single by Drew Law was the other.
Jameson Kuznia, whose three-run home run in the last inning propelled CRALL to the Midwest Regional championship over Johnston, Iowa, last weekend, pitched the first 4⅔ innings and got the victory. He gave up only two hits, struck out five batters, walked three and overcame four errors by his team.
“It just felt great to win this,” Kuznia said in a postgame interview on ESPN. He stranded two runners in the first and one in the second before Bowling Green put runners at the corners with two outs in the third. Bowling Green scored its only run when the runner on first broke for second and the catcher’s throw went into center field, allowing the lead runner to come home.
That prompted a mound visit from CRALL coach Greg Bloom, who told Kuznia and the infielders, “Don’t worry about it. Let’s leave these guys on base.” Kuznia got the next hitter on a flyout.
Coon Rapids kept the lead in the fifth when shortstop Jaxon Knutson made an acrobatic catch on a line drive with two runners aboard — after a double and an intentional walk — and two outs. Scooting toward second base, Knutson left his feet, stretched his body as far as he could, and reached up with his glove to catch the ball.
“Unbelievable,” Kuznia said.
“I just knew with runners on first and second, we had to make a play,” Knutson said, calling what he did “pure instinct.”
The line drive came on the first pitch thrown by Carson Timm, who had relieved Kuznia when he reached his Little League limit of 85 pitches.
Timm pitched a perfect sixth and final inning for the save. Knutson raced into short left field to catch a fly ball for the first out. Timm got a strikeout for the second, and the last out came on a groundout to third.
CRALL will next play South Riding, Va., at 10 a.m. Sunday (ESPN) in the winners’ bracket of the double-elimination tournament. South Riding beat Rhode Island 3-0 on a combined no-hitter by three pitchers.