This year’s 10-team field for the Senior League World Series may be as balanced as any in the eight years these world championships for players ages 14 through 16 have called Mansfield Stadium in Bangor home.
There doesn’t seem to be a definitive favorite in this year’s event, nor is there a definitive doormat.
Take the lone winless team, the Canadian champion Cornwall, Ontario. The Black Sox yielded just one hit in their opener, a 1-0 loss to host Bangor, then went 12 innings before falling to Pool A champion Fremont, Calif. — the only undefeated team through the first four days of pool play.
The Canadians lost another one-run game to Makati City, Philippines on Wednesday before finally wearing down in an 11-1 defeat to Greenville, S.C., on Thursday morning.
The host team also was competitive, not only with the win over Canada but by taking Greenville, S.C., to 10 innings Wednesday night and then leading unbeaten Fremont, Calif., in the eighth inning Thursday before falling 7-6.
“Looking at our bracket, even [Wednesday] before we went out there people were telling us that the host team was not very good, and they were definitely wrong,” said Greenville manager Ken Yeager. “There are no easy games.”
Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy, ended a 14-game losing streak for Europe-Middle East-Africa teams with an 11-8 win over Madison, Wis., and may be the most fundamentally sound team to represent that region in Bangor.
And the most pleasant surprise may be the Asia Pacific champs from Makati City, who earned that region’s first berth in the SLWS semifinals since the tourney arrived in Bangor — one year after going 0-4 in pool play.
Perhaps that shouldn’t be considered a surprise, though, as Makati City sent teams to the Junior League World Series each of the last two years — finishing second in 2007.
Meanwhile, San Nicolas, Aruba, has at times been the most impressive looking team thanks to a pair of pro prospects in brothers Xander and Jair Bogaerts. But a loss to the West University Little League of Houston, Texas, left the Latin American champions needing a win Thursday to advance — and they got it in a 14-1 deci-sion over South Vineland, N.J.
Among other contenders, the U.S. West champs from Fremont, Calif., finished as the only undefeated team in pool play, but had to be resilient while being stretched to 12 innings by Canada and eight by Bangor, while teams from the U.S. Central and Southwest squared off for the final semifinal berth Thursday night.
Such balance has been epitomized by close games. Not until the 15th game of pool play was any contest ended by the 10-run rule. Of those first 14 games, 10 were decided by three runs or less and just two were determined by a margin greater than five runs.
Perhaps there are no flame-throwing pitchers destined to join former Curacao righthander Jair Jurjjens — now with the Atlanta Braves — on a major league pitching staff in this year’s field.
But generally the pitchers have gotten the better of the hitters, with only one team scoring more than 11 runs in a game through Game 19 and 19 teams scoring four runs or less in games during that span.
And the defense has been decent, with an average of 3.6 errors per game through four days of play.
So who’s going to emerge as world champion come late Saturday afternoon?
I have no idea, and that mystery alone is reason enough to come check it out.