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Sunday, August 29, 2004
Curacao wins first title

Associated Press

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Carlos Pineda looked shaky when he started with three consecutive balls and then hit California's leadoff batter. But he got a lot better in a hurry.

Pineda struck out 11 and Jurickson Profar hit a two-run homer as Pabao Little League of Willemstad, Curacao, took an early lead and held on for a 5-2 victory over Conejo Valley of Thousand Oaks, Calif., in the Little League World Series championship on Sunday night.

Curacao coach Michelangelo Celestina said the early advantage was "very important, because it was the first time we were in a final game of the Little League World Series."

Teams from Curacao reached the international final game the previous three years, but lost each time to a team from Japan.

California scored both of its runs in the top of the sixth, and had runners on first and third with two outs. James Brady grounded to first baseman Christopher Garia, who won a race to the bag for the final out.

It was the first Little League title for the tiny island in the Netherlands Antilles, and the first for any team from the Caribbean. Jonathan Schoop, who earned the save, said he expected crowds at the airport and a lot of attention at school.

In the consolation game, Lamar National Little League of Richmond, Texas, beat Linda Vista Little League of Guadalupe, Mexico, 5-0. Randal Grichuk's second hit of the game for Texas tied the record for hits in a series with 12.

Curacao (6-0) never trailed, going up 1-0 in the bottom of the first on Schoop's RBI single. Facing a 1-1 count, Profar homered to left field -- his first home run of the series -- to make it 3-0.

"I did all the things good I wanted to do -- hitting, defense," Profar said through an interpreter.

After that, Pineda (2-0) kept his team out of trouble.

"He was throwing very hard," Celestina said. "I think the speed that he has is unbeatable."

But it wasn't so much the speed as the deft mix of Pineda's fastball, breaking ball and the occasional curveball to keep California (5-1) off balance. Pineda struck out seven straight from the first inning through the third -- but that was only after his rough start.

"I was not following through, I wasn't whipping the ball for that first batter. That's why I was wild," Pineda said through an interpreter.

After that, "I concentrated for the strikes," Pineda said.

It was almost a complete collapse for a California team that many expected to dominate. Conejo Valley committed just two errors in five games, but had three errors by the end of the third inning of the title game. On Saturday night, California shut out a Texas team that averaged more than 10 runs a game.

California's coaches refused to come to the postgame news conference.

Curacao broke the game open in the third on a strange RBI double by Quincey van Blarcum. Cody Thomson slid to make the play in right field, but the ball bounced in front of him and over his body.

Charlton Martis scored easily, while Willie Rifaela and van Blarcum continued around the bases.

The runners appeared to be jammed when Rifaela held up at third and van Blarcum was caught halfway between second and third. But when Rifaela went home, the throw to the plate was off the mark, allowing Rifaela to score, making it 5-0.

Curacao almost had another run when Schoop hit a long fly ball to right field, but Thomson stretched over the wall to make the catch.

Sean McIntyre doubled in the top of the sixth, setting up Adam Justiniano's two-run homer that brought California within 5-2. John Lister reached base on an outfield error, and Thomson singled on a short fly to right field, advancing Lister to third. But Garia made the play on Brady's grounder to secure the win for Curacao.

Jordan Brower (1-1) took the loss.

Third place: Texas 5, Mexico 0

Grichuk's 12th hit of the series gave Texas a 3-0 lead in the third. He drove in Joey Scheurich with a single to center, tying the record set in 1996 by Hsieh Chin-Hsiung of Fu-Hsing Little League in Kaohsuing, Taiwan.

Grichuk scored on Dustin Moehlig's ground-rule double, and Steven Crawford's RBI single made it 5-0. Grichuk struck out 11 for Texas (5-1) and had two RBIs on his two hits.

"I didn't even know about the hitting thing," said Grichuk, who was chasing a record for most home runs. With four in this series and two last year, he fell one short of the record.

Grichuk's drive down the left field line in the first inning scored Joey Scheurich for a 1-0 lead, but Grichuk was tagged out trying to get to third. Daniel Homann followed with his second home run of the series.

Mexico (3-3) had runners on second and third after Walter Montemayor's single in the bottom of the first, but Grichuk stranded the runners by striking out Victor Gonzalez. Alan Camarillo almost got Mexico on the board in the bottom of the sixth with a fly ball to center field, but Ray Cervenka caught it at the wall.