Sprague-Lott ready to take mound for Taney

The Taney Dragons wait for their turn in the batting cage
The Taney Dragons wait for their turn in the batting cage (as they prepare for their second game in the tournament. ED HILLE / Staff)
Posted: August 18, 2014

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - Jared Sprague-Lott tucked a baseball under his pillow Saturday night in his bunk at the Little League World Series. The Taney pitcher will wake up Sunday morning with the biggest game of his young career hours away. He plans to hop over the chalked baselines when he takes the mound Sunday night for the second-round game at Howard J. Lamade Stadium.

A little superstition couldn't hurt.

But the pitcher from Bella Vista is not in Williamsport because of superstition. His father, Leland Lott, said his son has been "working at this since he was 2 years old." Lott is one of Taney manager Alex Rice's two assistant coaches.

The father and son will be together on the world stage when Sprague-Lott pitches against Pearland, Texas, at 7 p.m. With a victory, the first-ever team from Philadelphia to reach the Little League World Series will be one win away from the U.S. championship game.

Lott said his son, who also plays football and basketball, always had to have a ball in his hand. Instead of playing against kids his age, Sprague-Lott would choose to play in age groups two or three years older.

"He competes at those levels and shines at those levels," Lott said. "He has an innate ability. He's very competitive, but in a positive and good way."

Sprague-Lott said his father is very supportive. It's nice to know, he said, that "he's there to have my back."

His father took him to play at Taney when he was 6 years old. Sprague-Lott has played for Rice's teams ever since. Rice said Sprague-Lott is modest. He's always respectful of his opponents, he said, and acts surprised when he does really well.

"And that's funny because athletically he's the most gifted kid I know. He gets nervous about things, but he always does great."

The righthanded pitcher said there's no pressure to follow up Mo'ne Davis' performance Friday since they are on the same team. He said his job is simple: throw strikes and let his teammates do the work. He started Taney's regional semifinal, using his curveball to escape jams and leave runners stranded on base.

"I like the curveball that looks like it's going down into the batter and breaks," he said.

Rice said after Taney's first-round win that he was concerned that Sprague-Lott would be too nervous to pitch in front of the large crowd. Joe Richardson, the team's first baseman, said the pitcher will be fine. He said he's confident in Sprague-Lott and knows he will throw strikes.

"I think Jared has it under control," he said. "He has a good composure and he'll be able to go out there and give us a win."

Sprague-Lott did not appear nervous Friday as he shined defensively at shortstop and stroked a three-run homer in the first inning. Rice said his team was nervous before playing in front of 15,000 fans. Sprague-Lott's smash erased the Dragons' nerves. His father said the home run was "another priceless moment."

"To be able to experience his joy was quite something," he said.

His father said pitching in the Little League World Series is certainly a big stage and brings a lot of pressure. But the experience of playing in Friday's game was key as Sprague-Lott now knows what to expect. His father said he is in awe of his son's ability. Taney is in good hands, he said, when Sprague-Lott is on the mound.

"He has great skills. When he pitches his game, he's one of the best at his age group," Lott said. "I think if he gets some pitches under his belt, an inning or two, he'll be fine. Hopefully he'll come out hitting his target."

As Taney's batting practice wound down Saturday, a young fan reached over the chain-link fence and asked outfielder Kai Cummings how it felt to hit that home run Friday. That was Sprague-Lott, Cummings said.

He called Sunday's pitcher out of the batting cage and had the fan repeat the question. Sprague-Lott paused before telling the boy that the home run felt great. And after Sunday night he will be able to share how it felt to pitch in the Little League World Series. But first he had to slip that baseball under his pillow.


mbreen@phillynews.com

@matt_breen

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