BANGOR, Maine — With less than four weeks remaining until the Senior League World Series returns to Mansfield Stadium for the 11th consecutive year, the tournament’s international flavor is taking shape.
Teams from Auckland, New Zealand, Guatemala City, Guatemala, and Emilia, Italy, already have qualified for the seven-day event, with only Canada yet to determine a representative for the fourth international berth in the 10-team field.
The Canadian champion will be crowned in early August, as will U.S. participants from the East, Southeast, Southwest, Central and West regions.
The host Maine District 3 champion rounds out the field, and that team also will be determined through a tournament that has been pushed back about three weeks from previous years to run concurrently with the U.S. regional qualifying tournaments.
The District 3 tourney is scheduled for Aug. 4-9 at Mansfield Stadium.
“The thought process was that when we were playing the district tournament before the district champion would then have to sit for three weeks,” said SLWS executive director Mike Brooker. “They could practice but they didn’t have any games to play between the end of the district tournament and the start of the World Series.
“The way we did it this year, everyone in the district knew ahead of time so they could schedule regular-season games right up until the district tournament, and this way the district champion will be as game-conditioned as the other U.S. teams that make it to the World Series,” Brooker said.
Opening ceremonies for the Senior League World Series are scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 11, followed by the start of pool play the following afternoon.
The 2012 SLWS will include a revision of pool play assignments for the second time in three years.
The Europe-Middle East-Africa and U.S. Southwest champions are being moved from Pool A to Pool B, while the Latin America and U.S. Central qualifiers are being shifted from Pool B to Pool A.
Pool A now consists of Maine District 3, Canada, U.S. East, U.S. Central and Latin America, while the U.S. Southwest and EMEA will join Asia-Pacific, U.S. Southeast and U.S. West in Pool B.
“Little League asked us to shake up the pools, and it’s probably something they’ll ask us to do yearly,” said Brooker. “They shake up their pools [for the Little League World Series] yearly, but it’s a little easier for them to do that with eight U.S. teams and eight international teams.
“It’s a little harder for us to maintain competitive balance when we do that.”
That’s because the SLWS during its run in Bangor has been dominated by teams from Latin America, the U.S. West, U.S. Southeast and U.S. East, which have combined for eight titles and eight runner-up finishes — for 16 of a possible 20 berths in the 10 championship games held to date in the Queen City.
Several other regions have not been traditionally as successful.
“Outside of one exceptional year [2010, when Bangor reached the SLWS final], the District 3 team has never won more than one game in a year, while Asia-Pacific has made the semifinals just once, EMEA has made the semifinals just once and Canada has made the semifinals just once,” Brooker said.
“It’s kind of a balancing act to try to maintain some competitive balance in the pools and have two international teams in each pool, which is something else Little League wants us to have.”
Each team in this year’s series will play four games of pool play over a five-day period, with the top two teams in each pool advancing to the semifinals at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 17. The two semifinal winners will play for the SLWS championship at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 18.
The final will be broadcast on ESPNU and ESPN3.com.
Tournament play will begin at noon Sunday, Aug. 12, with the annual opening game between Maine District 3 and Canada. Those teams have met in the tourney opener each year since 2005, with Maine District 3 winning the last three meetings and holding a 6-4 overall advantage over its North American neighbor since 2002.
Games are scheduled for noon, 2:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Sunday, and at 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. during the subsequent days of pool play.
The Maine District 3 champ will play its subsequent games at 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and on the final day of pool play on Thursday, Aug. 16, representing a slight change from recent years when Maine District 3 had its bye day on Tuesday.
Among teams that already have qualified, the Bayside Westhaven Little League of Auckland, New Zealand, became the first team from that country to qualify for World Series competition at any level after winning the Asia-Pacific championship in Hagatna, Guam.
New Zealand went 4-1 in the expanded seven-team regional — up from four teams a year ago — edging the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands 2-1 on the final day pool play to earn its SLWS berth.
The Juvenil de Guatemala Little League of Guatemala City went undefeated in six games to win the 11-nation Latin American regional it hosted. Pitching was a key factor for the champions, who allowed just five runs during that tournament run, including a 1-0 victory over Panama in the semifinals and a 5-1 win over Venezuela in the championship game.
Guatemala City previously sent a team to the 2010 Junior League World Series at Taylor, Mich., but Brooker believes that team — the first from that country to participate in a World Series at any level — was from a different league within the city.
Guatemala finished fourth in last year’s Latin America Senior League regional.
Italy earned a trip to the SLWS for the fourth consecutive year, though the Emilia Little League from the north-central part of the country represents the third different Italian city to represent the EMEA in Bangor during that span.
The Italian team, with many of its members having competed in the 2011 Junior League World Series, raced through the four-team EMEA regional with a 5-0 record, including a 13-3 semifinal victory over Hungary and a 9-0 win over Cape Town, South Africa, in the championship game.
Another Italian team, from the Friuli Venezia Giulia Little League, went 3-1 in pool play at last year’s Senior League World Series and became the first EMEA team to reach the semifinals since the tournament arrived in Bangor.