LITTLE LEAGUE WORLD SERIES: California, Japan to play for title
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT — When California starter Nick Mora had to leave the game with one out to go, he wasn’t too happy.
“I wanted that complete game. I was kind of disappointed,” Mora said.
He was all smiles moments later when reliever Giancarlo Cortez recorded the final out, completing Chula Vista’s 12-1 victory over Westport, Conn., in the U.S. title game of the Little League World Series on Saturday.
California will play Japan for the World Series title today. Japan beat Mexico 3-2 earlier Saturday on Takuma Gomi’s leadoff home run in the sixth inning.
Mora gave California the spark it needed with ace right-hander Grant Holman not eligible to pitch until today. Mora struck out 10 and walked only one before reaching his pitch limit.
“When I was pitching, I knew most of their weaknesses and I was able to hit those spots,” said Mora, who also drove in four runs with a homer and single. “When I was hitting, I wasn’t trying to hit a home run. I was just trying to hit a line drive up the middle. That’s when the home runs come.”
California took a 6-1 lead in the first two innings against the New England champions, scoring three times in the first with the help of some sloppy Connecticut play, and adding three more on Mora’s long three-run homer in the second.
The West champions added six runs in the sixth on a passed ball, a wild pitch, an error, Mora’s RBI single, and a two-run double by Michael Gaines.
It had been a memorable World Series for both teams.
The 6-foot-4 Holman pitched the first extra-inning no-hitter in the Little League World Series since 1979, striking out 13 in seven innings in a 3-0 first-round victory over Grosse Pointe, Mich.
Holman also won Wednesday night’s game against Connecticut with a three-run homer in the ninth inning, and he hit a grand slam in the fourth inning that ended a mercy rule-shortened 15-3 victory over Newark, Del.
For Connecticut, Chad Knight lined a run-scoring single to deep left field in the seventh inning to give the New England champions a wild 14-13 win over Sammamish, Wash., on Friday. He also hit a solo homer to tie it at 13 in the fifth.
Westport was torched for 10 runs in the fourth inning by Sammamish, then rallied with seven runs in the fifth to tie it. They did it with power, also getting home runs from Alex Reiner, Max Popken, Tatin Llamas and Ricky Offenberg.
Perhaps worn out from all that excitement and with not much time to recover, Connecticut fell behind early against California and couldn’t muster another valiant rally.
“I want these guys to immediately celebrate their success and forget about this game,” Connecticut manager Tim Rogers said. “We lost to a fantastic team. We have to remember we are one of the last two teams in the USA.”
Chula Vista scored three times in the first inning when Connecticut committed three errors. Micah Pietila-Wiggs led off with a single, his eighth hit of the World Series, and Jake Espinoza reached second on an error after grounding into a force play.
Mora then reached on an error by third baseman Harry Azadian, and Holman singled to left, getting to third when the ball went through the legs of outfielder Charlie Roof. When Cortez followed with an RBI single, California had a 3-0 lead.
“We came out a little flat,” Rogers said. “I don’t think we’ve ever made five errors in a game. That’s a great hitting team. They look for a fastball and keep fouling off the curveballs.”
Matt Stone’s RBI single in the first put Connecticut on the board, but California came right back again.
Pietila-Wiggs singled again, this time through the pitcher’s legs, Espinoza beat out a high bouncer to the mound, and Mora crushed a 3-0 pitch from Connecticut starter Knight onto the hill well beyond the fence in right-center for a 6-1 lead.
Knight settled down after that, striking out the side in the third and retiring the side in order in the fourth. He went to the dugout having thrown 74 pitches, just 11 from the maximum allowed under Little League rules, but his teammates couldn’t produce one last rally as Mora held the New England champions at bay.
“We went to work right after the game on Wednesday that (Knight) pitched (against us),” California manager Rick Tibbett said. “We wanted to make him work, foul some pitches off and get his pitch count up. They played a heck of game (Friday). We knew what they were capable of. We didn’t want the same situation to happen to us. We had to keep plugging away and getting runs.”
Mora struck out the side in the second, allowed one hit in the third, and faced only three batters in the fourth as Connecticut blundered again.
Stone lofted a high fly to left that Michael Gaines appeared to lose in the sun. The ball caromed off his glove for an error. Stone, however, was out trying to reach second when Pietila-Wiggs took the throw, blocked the bag with his feet, and slapped a tag on him.
Connecticut challenged the call, but it stood after a video replay.
Chula Vista’s victory came 50 years to the day after California defeated Connecticut 2-1 for the 1963 title.
JAPAN 3, MEXICO 2: Gomi led off the top of the sixth inning with a tiebreaking home run, and Tokyo beat Tijuana to win the international title.
Japan and Mexico had faced off 14 times in World Series history, and Japan improved to 10-5 against its rival when Gomi homered over the wall in right-center field.
Traditional power Japan is in contention again to make that victory lap around Lamade Stadium. A year ago an all-star team from Tokyo won Japan’s eighth Little League title and second in three seasons. Japan has appeared in the World Series finals five of the previous seven years.