SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — Joey Randazzo's teammates marveled as the Grosse Pointe, Michigan, shortstop lifted pitch after pitch over the left field fence during Little League World Series batting practice on Wednesday.
They were in awe again a batter later as Joseph Wisniewski used his left-handed uppercut swing to shoot line-drive home runs to right-center field.
Fans will likely see much more of that power over the next 11 days as 16 teams battle for the Little League title. The 71st edition of the tournament begins Thursday in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
"It's the evolution of the game as kids are getting bigger and stronger," said Jason Hill, coach of the team from just outside Detroit that's representing the Great Lakes Region. "The game has really progressed. Coaches are getting more informed with teaching mechanics and selection and hitting philosophy."
Grosse Pointe's 6.6 runs per game during regional play was actually among the lowest offensive output among the teams taking the field this week. The Mid-Atlantic team from Jackson, New Jersey, averaged 10.8 runs across four regional games, the best mark of any U.S. team.
The international teams averaged more runs during regionals than the United States teams did, though the competition levels of the different regions vary. The Asia-Pacific Region's representative from Seoul, South Korea, outscored its regional opponents 45-2 in the four-game span. Canada scored more than 20 runs in back-to-back regional games, averaging nearly 14.3 runs across seven contests. Japan won its final regional matchup 17-0 and averaged more than 13 runs per game.
"We've got some power in our lineup," said coach Chris Swan of Hills Little League from Sydney, Australia, which will face Japan on Friday. "If you look back at our (regional) tournament, we didn't rely on the home run. We just relied on batting for average, looking to hit the ball in the gaps."
"We look to hit the ball hard. If the ball goes out, it's an extra bonus," Swan said. Australia averaged 12.3 runs per game across seven regional games, third best among international teams behind Canada and Japan.
Hills is one of two teams returning to the series for a second straight year, along with Emilia Little League from Italy. That could be an advantage because they've already experienced the hype.
"They're so excited to be here," Swan said. "They're one team that just likes to relax, and they want to have fun. I think they should be having enough fun so the nerves won't really take over."
Two key matchups are coming up in the opening days of the tournament.
— Fairfield, Connecticut (New England) vs. Jackson, New Jersey (Mid-Atlantic) on Thursday: The highest-scoring offense among United States teams, New Jersey will try to hand Connecticut its first loss this summer as Fairfield won each of its 18 games. New Jersey has a connection with New York Yankees third baseman and 1998 Little League World Series Champion Todd Frazier, who played for Toms River, New Jersey. Both Jackson and Toms River are in the Ocean County and this team's players have honed their skills in practice with Frazier and his two brothers.
— Australia vs. Japan on Friday: This game is expected to showcase the offensive firepower on the international side of regional play. Japan outscored its opponents 53-6 in regionals, showing it can dominate both at the plate and on the mound.
Matt Martell is a journalism student at Penn State. Penn State is partnering with The Associated Press to supplement coverage of the 2017 Little League World Series.