Mo'ne basks in spotlight as Taney wins again

Posted: August 18, 2014

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - One shares a name with a fairytale princess; another, with a real-life royalty.

Yesterday, the little Evans redheads couldn't wait to watch athletic majesty.

Fiona, 12, and Kate, 8, patiently waited in their seats behind third base at Lemade Stadium for the Taney Dragons to play their first Little League World Series game.

Specifically, they waited to watch Mo'ne Davis, the 13-year-old starting pitcher for the Philadelphia all-star squad.

"I want to see the girl pitcher," said Fiona, who plays third base in softball back home in Scranton. "She's really, really good."

Like dozens of other little girls among the 15,648 sitting in the Lemade Stadium and lounging along the hillside beyond the outfield, the Evans girls and their parents recognized the chance to live a once-in-a-lifetime moment. The Evanses briefly delayed their vacation in Virginia Beach, Va., to take a detour and watch this mélange of city kids who have caught the attention of the nation - none more so than Mo'ne.

The attention will only intensify.

Davis shut out Tennessee, 4-0. Her fastball settled at about 68 mph, which, extrapolated to major league dimensions, is about 90 mph. She needed only 70 pitches. She gave up two hits, one of them an infield hit. She struck out eight. She walked none.

She isn't the first girl to start a LLWS game in its 75-year history, but she's the first one to win one . . . which impressed opportunistic Gov. Tom Corbett, who offered an in-game analysis.

"She is moving the ball up and down. She kind of quick-pitches every once and a while. She's got a nice delivery," he said. "I wouldn't want to be trying to hit her."

Or be her.

Mo'ne needed only to scan the crowd to realize she now is a big deal with her own demographic.

"I saw a lot of them, but I couldn't look at them long. That's kind of creepy," she said. "That would take me out of the game. After the game, I gave some of them high-fives."

"It's a lot of pressure on her," Corbett acknowledged. "It goes to show you where sports have moved over the past 40 or 50 years. We wouldn't have thought about this 50 years ago. I was sitting there, thinking, 'Is she going to go into professional baseball?' "

Upon hearing that, Mo'ne replied, "It's very crazy," then, diplomatically, allowed that anything is possible.

Anything seems possible for Taney, which is a lot more than just Mo.

Jared Sprague-Lott staked Mo'ne to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first, and Taney played a second straight error-free game, but, as coach Alex Rice said, "It was the Mo Show out there."

It's the Mo Show everywhere.

She has been on the "Today" show, on "Inside Edition," and, of course, on Little League rights holder ESPN. She has been wished well by former MVP Jimmy Rollins and by perennial Cy Young favorite Clayton Kershaw.

But her impact is, and will be, grass roots, from Scranton to San Diego, from Taney Street to Tampa Bay.

Girls want to be like her.

"It's very unreal," Mo'ne said. "I never thought, at the age of 13, I'd be a role model."

She is more than that: She is a star. Kevin Durant, LeSean McCoy and Mike Trout give her props. Even her minutiae matters: She carries cash in her back pockets for luck; yesterday, a 5, two ones and a nickel.

Mo'ne is the biggest and best thing to happen to the Little League World Series since Danny Almonte in 2001 . . . which, considering the checkered legacy of him and his team (he was too old), might make her the biggest and best thing to happen in LLWS history.

Intelligent, mature and talented, she obliterates cultural and gender biases and operates with an eerie magnetism.

But . . . does she like it?

"Yes," she said. "I guess I'm comfortable with it."

Davis considers baseball a summer sidelight to her more probable basketball career. In fact, asked about her own role model, she named stoic Stephen Curry.

"I just like the way he plays. His style of play," she said.

No female athletes?

"Skylar Diggins and Maya Moore."

Moore played for UConn, and Davis one day would like to follow her there.

Pay attention, Geno.

Other girls have played at Williamsport; 17, in fact. Emma March, a first baseman and a pitcher, is here from British Columbia.

None of the other girls had what Davis has: an athletic pedigree that should have her playing varsity basketball and soccer this year . . . as an eighth-grader.

An iconic look, like Venus Williams.

A presence that attracts the spotlight, absorbs it and draws greater strength from it.

And, of course, a 70-mph fastball.

She's 5-4 and weighs 111 pounds.

"Dude, I'm 5-7 and 160," said Jake Cutler, a 14-year-old who pitched in the Taney Youth Baseball Association for 7 years. "I throw it, like, 60."

Cutler and Alin Maimon, another 14-year-old Taney vet, made the trip here with some buddies and two of their dads. Modell's is selling Taney gear in three city stores and online, but these guys wore Taney T-shirts they designed online. They even had players' names put on them.

Cutler and Maimon chose Mo'ne.

"We just love her," Maimon said. "She's great. She's a real icon for the city."

For every city, really; she recently was featured with a full-page picture in a Tampa newspaper.

Yesterday, she got the biggest cheers in introductions, and when she took her first at-bat. To that point, she batted second in the lineup, but she stood little chance against Tennessee starter Blake Money, a prototype Little League stud who stands 5-10 and weighs 161 pounds. She struck out twice, then flied out weakly to shallow leftfield before Money reached the 85-pitch maximum.

That's OK. She did her part, again. She also shut out Delaware in the regional final, Taney's previous win. Yesterday was better.

"This game blew me away!" exclaimed her mother, Lakeisha McLean.

Her, and Tennessee. After allowing a leadoff single in the fifth, Mo'ne retired the next nine batters, five of the last six by strikeout.

"She was pounding the strike zone," catcher Scott Bandura said

Rice said Mo'ne would have faced no more batters yesterday, to keep her pitch count low. Now, she can pitch again with 3 days' rest - not that it should matter, because they play too soon for her to pitch.

Taney faces Texas, a 6-4 winner over Rhode Island, at 7 p.m. tomorrow.. A loss puts Taney back on the field Monday night; a win means they're off until Wednesday.

The sports world would have no Mo for 2 full days.

Neither would her legion of princesses.

In other games

* Emma March, the other girl in this year's tournament, went hitless as her Canada team fell to Mexico, 4-3. Third baseman Luis Rodriguez went 3-for-3, finishing a triple shy of the cycle, to lead Mexico.

March, who batted cleanup ahead of her brother - Evan - created some excitement when she stepped into the batter's box. She drove a long fly ball to rightfield in the fourth inning that the crowd thought might be a home run. However, the hit sailed foul into the stands. Then in the top of the fifth, March stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and Canada down by two runs. After working the count to 2-2, she struck out looking.

* Takuma Takahashi threw a one-hitter and struck out 14 in Japan's 1-0 victory over Venezuela. Takahashi threw 73 pitched in six innings in the opener for the Tokyo team.

Japan will play Mexico tomorrow.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


On Twitter: @inkstainedretch

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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