WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. – The final stretch of the Little League World Series begins Thursday, and for the first time in years, Metro Detroit has a team in the mix.
The Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores team is one of just 16 remaining in the entire world as the championship tournament begins in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. It will represent the Great Lakes Region after winning the regional championship last week.
Great Lakes Regional champs
Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores got a chance to represent Michigan in the Great Lakes regional, but it's been a while since the state took home a regional title.
The tournament got off to a rough start for Michigan, as it lost its first game to Ohio, 10-2. The loss dropped Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores immediately into the loser's bracket of the double-elimination tournament, leaving a steep uphill battle for the boys from Wayne County.
The journey almost ended the following day, as Michigan squeaked by Indiana, 4-3, to keep its season alive.
After that close call, Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores never looked back. The offense jumped all over Kentucky on Aug. 10, winning 10-0 to advance to the regional semifinals and setting up a rematch with Ohio.
This time it was all Michigan, which jumped on Ohio's pitching early and cruised to an 11-3 win. The last team standing between Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores and Williamsport was an undefeated Illinois squad.
The team from Hinsdale, Illinois, jumped out to a 2-1 lead through three innings, and Michigan's offense couldn't get anything going. But it exploded in the fifth inning, picking up five runs and carrying Michigan to a 6-3 win.
Meet the team
Michigan's lethal offense is led by a trio of boys who each hit well over .400 during the regional tournament.
Jack Jones picked up a team-high nine hits, including two doubles and a home run, in 15 at-bats. Joey Randazzo and Joseph Wisniewski each pitched in with seven hits. Randazzo also hit two doubles and two home runs.
Drew Hill, Adam Ayrault, Jordan Arsenau and Matthew Greene each contributed four hits during regionals, with Arsenau mashing two doubles and a homer and Greene adding three doubles and a home run.
Hill and Wisniewski combined for zero strikeouts in 33 plate appearances. Hill had the team's only two stolen bases.
Chase Reinhard had two hits in four at-bats, and Ryan Jones, Tommy Schoeck and Will Pflaum also picked up hits.
Tommy Harris and Braden Campbell both contributed in pinch-hit roles. Campbell had three quality at-bats in five tries and Harris had one quality at-bat, one walk and a run scored.
On the mound, Michigan pitchers allowed 16 earned runs in 27 innings while striking out 43 batters.
Greene led the charge with 11 strikeouts and three earned runs in six innings. Randazzo allowed three earned runs in seven innings. Jack Jones struck out 11 batters in five innings while allowing three runs. Pflaum struck out eight batters and allowed just two earned runs in six innings.
Thursday's opponent -- Lufkin, Texas
Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores' first matchup in Williamsport might be against the top team in the tournament.
Lufkin, Texas, which represents the Southwest Region in the bracket, went 4-0 en route to the Little League World Series.
Lufkin survived two tough battles with Texas West and knocked off the state champions from Colorado and Louisiana to get to Williamsport.
While Michigan is led by its high-powered offense, which scored 27 runs in its last three regional games, Texas is led by dominant pitching. After an 11-10 win Aug. 5, Lufkin allowed just one run in the semifinal and final games combined.
Hunter Ditsworth has led the charge for Lufkin, allowing just seven hits and one earned run while striking out 22 batters in 10.2 innings.
Ditsworth also leads the team with eight hits in 14 at-bats, including three home runs.
First pitch of the Great Lakes vs. Southwest game is at 7 p.m. Thursday, the fourth game of the tournament.
The game can be seen on ESPN2.
The winner will advance in the bracket to play the winner of the Mid-Atlantic vs. New England game, which begins at 3 p.m. Thursday.
The loser of the game will fall immediately into the loser's bracket to face the loser of the Mid-Atlantic vs. New England game, which kicks off a long road back to the finals.
If Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores beats Lufkin, it will only be two wins away from the U.S. Championship game. If it losses to Lufkin, it will take four consecutive wins to get back to the U.S. Championship.
Full Little League World Series tournament bracket
The Little League Baseball World Series bracket was released earlier this week, and features eight teams from the United States and eight teams from the rest of the world.
You can view the full bracket below, or click here to view it in a separate tab.