Taiwan looks tough at Little League World Series with star Fan Chen-Jun leading the way
By MAX RALPH Associated Press
Taiwan’s players put the finishing touches on a 10-0 mercy rule win over Japan, then marched to the oversized Little League World Series bracket between Volunteer and Lamade stadiums.
They stamped their name in the next round, then danced and cheered with family and friends for a good 20 minutes.
Kuei-Shan Little League from Taoyuan, Taiwan, has dominated its first two games of the tournament and it has done so in style.
The team pitched a perfect game and cruised past Canada 6-0 last Thursday and toppled Japan, annually contending for a championship since the late ’90s, on Monday with a no-hitter. That’s 16 runs for Taiwan and no hits for its opponents.
The Taiwan region, which won 17 Little League World Series titles between 1969 and 1996, could be returning to form. Taiwan has gotten offensive contributions up and down its lineup, and its pitching has completely shut down opposing batters so far.
“Preparing for Japan, we know they are basically the empire for many series. We always prepared to have a very hard competition today,” manager Lee Cheng-Ta said following Monday’s win. “In fact, I prepared three or five pitchers. It just happened that we got lucky that their pitcher got nervous, so we were able to finish early today.”
Taiwan also boasts Fan Chen-Jun, a 12-year-old throwing 80 mph fastballs with a devastating slider. The reaction time required from a Little League hitter on an 80 mph pitch is about the same needed from an MLB hitter to handle a pitch well over 100 mph.
Oh, and he has yet to allow a hit in 6 2/3 innings with 15 strikeouts. He was perfect against Canada and allowed a walk and a hit by pitch to Japan.
And one more thing, he hit a home run against Canada and was intentionally walked against Japan.
Fan has been the unquestioned star of the tournament thus far and drew quick comparisons to MLB’s two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani.
He’s been casual about his performances, saying he didn’t even realize he threw three more no-hit innings against Japan until seeing the final box score.
Lee said he found Fan two years ago and saw more athletic ability than he “had ever seen,” thinking he had potential as a baseball player.
That was a safe bet.
“He has the speed, he has the coordination, he has the jumping ability,” Lee said. “I wish him to be safe and not to get injured. He has a lot of future to come in his baseball career.”
Fan threw 51 pitches Monday, meaning he’s not available to pitch again in Wednesday’s matchup against Curacao under pitch limits. That’s OK, says Lee, because he prepared even more pitchers to throw against Japan expecting the game would be much closer.
Lee named Liu You-An and Hsu Shao-Chieh as the two he would have thrown against Japan, as well as three more unnamed who were “in the pipeline.” Neither one has pitched yet in the tournament.
However, the three pitchers not named Fan used by Taiwan thus far have also combined for 3 1/3 innings of perfect baseball. Chiu Tse-Wei and Cai Yuan-Ho finished the combined perfect game against Canada, the first one in the Little League World Series since 2017.
The game against Curacao is a rematch of 2022’s tournament semifinal, which Curacao won 1-0. The Taiwanese team is different, but Curacao has the same club back in South Williamsport and five returning players from the team that lost in last year’s championship.
Curacao has won a pair of close games, 2-1 wins over Australia and Venezuela, to get here. The winner moves on to the tournament semifinal while the loser heads to a win-or-go-home game in the elimination bracket.
“We have great respect for the Curacao team, not just as a baseball team, the whole country has great baseball players who even play professional baseball here,” Lee said. “I just want the players to focus one day at a time and to be as they are.”
Max Ralph is a student in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State.