White Bluff’s Freeman faces early controversial calls in Little League World Series umpire debut

White Bluff's Hank Freeman makes the call on ESPN during Thursday's Little League World Series.

White Bluff’s Hank Freeman makes the call on ESPN during Thursday’s Little League World Series.

White Bluff’s Hank Freeman got plenty of face time on ESPN Thursday as two controversial calls put early pressure on the home-plate umpire making his debut at the Little League World Series. Freeman was calling balls and strikes in the U.S. Division opening game between Chicago and Washington and had the first opportunity to go to instant replay for an appeal in this year’s tournament. Instant replay has been used at the Little League World Series since 2008 and was expanded to include appeals in 2010. Early in the game, there was an appeal of a tag play at the plate and the replay upheld Freeman’s call that the runner was out. Freeman came under the glare of the television cameras two innings later when he called a batter out for stepping on the plate while laying down a bunt. While the play was not appealed, the television replays clearly showed Freeman made the right call and the ESPN announcers praised him for a great call. The game turned into a blowout as Chicago’s Pierce Jones hit three home runs and a triple in a 12-2 rout in five innings. Thursday’s other U.S. Division game also was shortened by the 10-run rule as Las Vegas beat Rapid City 12-2. In the International Division, South Korea topped the Czech Republic 10-3 and Puerto Rico crushed Australia 16-3 in four innings. Freeman will be working in the field for today’s game between Pearland, Texas, and Cumberland, Rhode Island, at 7 pm on ESPN. Robert Hassell III and the South Nashville team make their return to the World Series today facing Taney Youth from Philadelphia at 2 pm on ESPN. Hassell is the son of Dickson County High School graduate Robert Hassell II and celebrates his 13th birthday today with his second appearance in the World Series. The Southeast Region champions, South Nashville hopes to avoid a repeat of last year’s first-round loss when they take on a team that features one of two girls playing in this year’s World Series, Philly pitcher Mo’ne Davis. Today’s International Division games feature Japan versus Latin American and Canada against Mexico. Today’s losers play Thursday’s losers in elimination games on Saturday while first-round winners face each other Sunday.