SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — Coming back to the Little League World Series after losing last year’s title game, Curacao doesn’t just want to be good for its size.
The team from Willemstad’s Pabao Little League on the Caribbean island of about 150,000 people is aiming for bigger things, and with five players and its whole coaching staff back for a second straight year, it needs just two wins to return to the tournament championship undefeated.
“Those guys that were here last year, I tell them to just keep focus and keep talking with the other guys to do their job,” manager Zaino Everett said Monday after his club beat Venezuela 2-1 — the team’s second win following another victory by the same score against Australia.
Jay-Dlynn Wiel, D’Shawn Winklaar, Shemar Sophia Jacobus, Alexander Provacia Roach and Joshua Acosta Fernandez know what it’s like to come up just short of the tournament title and don’t want a repeat of 2022.
The team also may be a little less star struck than most, having so many players who have done the tournament thing before.
Winning also equals international air time for Curacao and a chance to raise its baseball profile. In addition to winning the LLWS in 2004, Curacao has had more than its share of major leaguers for such a small country, including Boston’s All-Star reliever Kenley Jansen, Atlanta infielder Ozzie Albies and Colorado’s Jurickson Profar.
But still, “last year, people didn’t know about us,” Jay-Dlynn said. “When we came to Williamsport, that’s when people started to (learn) what Curacao is.”
Curacao isn’t the flashiest team and its offense has combined for only four runs through two games. But the team’s sturdy defense and pitching staff has set it apart, offering support to a struggling lineup until it inevitably makes something happen.
The strategy worked Monday, as Nasir El-Ossais hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning to beat Venezuela, which coincidentally is Curcao’s closest — and much bigger — neighbor in South America.
“We emphasized just getting a guy on base to make it a tie game,” Everett said. “But then El-Ossais hit the home run, and gave another W to the Caribbean.
“I just tell them every time, we can’t win a game 0-0. You have to put at least one run on the board to win the game.”
No team has been able to score a run or even tally a hit on Taiwan — Curacao’s next opponent — through two games.
Taiwan threw the tournament’s first perfect game since 2017 on Thursday, a 6-0 win over Canada. On Monday, the Taiwanese no-hit Japan 10-0, ending the game after the fourth via mercy rule.
Fan Chen-Jun, who throws over 80 mph and started both the perfect game and no-hitter, will not be available on Wednesday because of pitch-count limits — a lucky break for Curacao.
“Fan is not able to pitch,” Taiwan manager Lee Cheng-Ta said through a translator, “but we’re confident that they can play well against the Curacao team. We want to do something special, which is just to do your best and let the kids have fun and face the next game.”
Taiwan’s dominance hasn’t faltered Curacao’s confidence, either.
Far from home but in familiar territory, Curacao expects to win the tournament whether the rest of the world knows its name or not.
“They have a great team,” Everett said, “but we are great, too. When we win that game, we will go to the (international) finals.”
Seth Engle is a student in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State.
Seth Engle, The Associated Press