SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Mo’ne Davis knew she had to be on her “A” game in order to beat Las Vegas. Unfortunately, she wasn’t. The Dragons’ star pitcher allowed her first three runs of the Little League World Series on Wednesday night as Taney suffered its first loss of the tournament, 8-1, at Lamade Stadium (see Instant Replay). But don’t for a second think the spotlight is getting to her, manager Alex Rice warned. “She’s entitled to a tough night,” he said. “I don’t want to take away from the Vegas kids. That’s a real good team, maybe the best team we’ve faced this year. She certainly wasn’t locating her pitches as she typically does, but I don’t think any of the distractions this week impacted that.” Davis pitched into the third inning of Wednesday’s game, allowing those three runs -- two on a home run -- and six hits. She was noticeably edgier than she had been in her last start, though to her credit never entirely lost her composure. As had been the plan going in, Rice pulled Davis from the game after 55 pitches. Taney trailed 3-0 at the time. Thanks to the double-elimination format of the tournament, however, the Dragons are still alive. They’re now focused on making it to Saturday’s U.S. Championship, and Rice knew he had to keep Davis’ count down in order to make sure she would be eligible to pitch. As it stands now, she is. “She knew she was coming out,” Rice said. “She knew before I told her. It was the game plan we went with, I shared it with the kids going into it, so there was no surprise. The plan was to play for Saturday, however we thought best to get there is what we do.” Standing in the way of Saturday is the Great Lakes region’s team from Chicago. The Dragons will face that squad Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Lamade Stadium. The winner will advance. The loser will be eliminated. But in order to beat yet another well-rounded squad, the Dragons must correct some of the issues that plagued them against Las Vegas. They struggled to hit. They had a tough time with the strike zone -- and they were clearly frustrated by the home-plate umpire. Most notably, they stranded too many runners on base -- something they actually had a bit of a tough time with earlier in the tournament, too. That was no more evident than in the fourth inning, when the Dragons had pulled within 3-1 and had a perfect opportunity to get back into the game with the bases loaded and one out. But Las Vegas second baseman Zach Hare grabbed Eli Simon's liner and doubled off the runner at first to end the threat. “If you don’t get any production out of that, then it’s not your night,” Rice said. “The double play killed us and took a lot of momentum away from us. We were really getting momentum there, the crowd was getting into it. That was a killer.” The score remained 3-1 all the way to the sixth and final inning, when the game finally slipped from the Dragons’ hands. Relief pitching struggled. First, Kai Cummings allowed three runs. Then Carter Davis allowed two more. The crowd of 34,128 began their voyage to the exits shortly thereafter. Rice admitted it was a tough situation for both boys. “The stage, the moment got to a couple of my pitchers there at the end,” he said. “I put them in a tough spot. They hadn’t pitched probably in a couple weeks, since regionals. It is what it is. That’s the only time I think the stage got to them.” As far as his players’ obvious frustration with the home plate umpire’s strike zone, Rice had “no comment.” The Dragons haven't lost in weeks. They've been on a tear, especially after putting in two particularly impressive performances here in Williamsport. Being on the other side is suddenly foreign. But Rice is confident the team will handle the defeat in stride. “They’re fine,” he said. “Look where we are. We’re in the winner’s bracket championship in Williamsport. They can handle it. We’ve talked about it. We know we’re playing for Saturday. “Whether we’re going to get there tonight or tomorrow, they feel very good about playing on Saturday. They’re good.”
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