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Sunday, August 21, 2011
Montana stays hot with 6th win in a row

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SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- The boys from Billings have the perfect excuse to miss the start of school Wednesday back home in Montana -- they keep winning at the Little League World Series.

Patrick Zimmer tossed five shutout innings and Ben Askelson hit a two-out, two-run single in a 3-1 win over Lafayette, La., on Sunday that kept the Northwest region champs undefeated in South Williamsport.

It's not a bad start for the first team from Montana to qualify for youth baseball's biggest tournament, even though the players didn't think they would get here.

"We were just kind of hoping to make it" to the regional tournament, said Ian Leatherberry, 12, who added an insurance run in the sixth with a two-out, RBI double. "That was our ultimate goal, and then we got even farther."

School begins this week, and if everything breaks right, they might miss even more classes if they advance to the championship game Aug. 28.

Are the players disappointed they won't be in school? Zimmer, Askelson, Leatherberry and closer Sean Jones immediately responded in unison with an emphatic "No!"

Montana will next face Huntington Beach, Calif., on Wednesday night in a matchup of the last two undefeated U.S. teams.

Effective pitching, clutch hitting and timely defense have carried Montana through to make them the most successful Little League team to come out of Montana. Even manager Gene Carlson said he was a little surprised his team started 2-0 at the World Series.

"But once we got here, we knew we belonged," Carlson said before turning to his players. "They can play with anybody."

Zimmer struck out four before Jones came on to pitch the sixth and immediately got into trouble.

Louisiana's Nick Fruge reached on a three-base error, then scored on a wild pitch. Later Cain Castille, who finished 3 for 3, doubled with two outs to put the tying run at the plate, but Jones got a fielder's choice to end the game.

"We hit the ball, not as well as we wanted us to, but we hit at people, too," Louisiana manager Leland Padgett said. "That's baseball, there's nothing you can do about that."

Louisiana lost for the first time in tournament play, though Padgett's not too upset about it.

"The most important thing if you're 12 years old is learning how to lose, not win. Winning is easy," the skipper said. "It's how you lose that makes the character of a man, and that's what we're trying to teach these kids, though we're trying to teach a little baseball, too."

California 10, Kentucky 0

Huntington Beach, Calif., pounded out 12 hits, Hagen Danner and Nick Pratto combined on a two-hitter, and the West region champs stayed undefeated in the Little League World Series with a 10-0 win over LaGrange, Ky., on Sunday.

Pratto and Ryo Takeda each knocked in two runs to lead the way.

California took control in a five-run second. Two runs scored on a throwing error, Pratto smacked a two-run double and Danner added an RBI single.

The game ended after four because of Little League's 10-run rule.

California's baby bombers have won both their games in South Williamsport by double digits. Pratto, 12, thinks the dark background in center field helps at the plate.

"The dark color in centerfield is the best hitting back ground we've seen. We can see the ball really well," he said. "I notice the little things."

They next play Wednesday night against fellow unbeaten Billings, Mont., a team California grew friendly with while both squads were in at regionals earlier this month. California won the West region and Montana the Northwest, but both tournaments are played in San Bernardino, Calif.

"Our buddies, Montana, we were bunk mates out in San Bernardino. We came to be pretty good friends," said manager Jeff Pratto, Nick's father. "We joked out in San Bernardino that wouldn't it be great if we got to play each other. And here we are."

Jacob Bates and Zach Nicholas had Kentucky's hits. On the mound, Bates gave up four runs on six hits and had one strikeout in 1 1/3 innings to take the loss.

Things looked promising briefly after Kentucky held California scoreless in the first inning because of a line-drive double play before hits started falling for Pratto's team.

"After the first inning after we got them out, I thought maybe we were on to something here," said Kentucky manager Brad Bates, Jacob's father. "They came right back hit the ball all over the place in the second inning."

Venezuela 8, Canada 0

Yonny Hernandez hit two homers, and three pitchers combined for a shutout to help Maracay, Venezuela, stay undefeated at the Little League World Series with an 8-0 win Sunday over Langley, British Columbia.

Leading 3-0, Venezuela went long in the fifth. Hernandez hit a two-run home run blast in the fifth before Neil Prieto followed with a solo shot.

Hernandez added a second two-run homer in the sixth. The 13-year-old slugger has five hits and six RBIs in two games at the World Series.

Ian Burns had two hits for Canada, while first baseman Riley Ens made a defensive gem with an over-the-shoulder catch in shallow right to prevent a potential extra-base hit in the first.

Jothson Flores worked 3 2/3 innings for the victory for Venezuela.

Mexico 3, Japan 2

Bruno Ruiz's RBI single drove home the winning run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh to lift Mexicali, Mexico over Hamamatsu City, Japan, 3-2 on Sunday night at the Little League World Series.

"Yes we can! Yes we can," Mexico's fans chanted in Spanish after Jorge Jacobo trotted home with the winning run. He scored after Ruiz's grounder off a 2-2 pitch bounced through the hole into left field.

A jubilant Ruiz, 13, couldn't stop smiling after he reached first, mobbed by teammates along the first-base line after the hit kept Mexico unbeaten in the tournament.

Ruiz said he's had a game-ending hit -- a homer -- once before in his young career, "but it definitely doesn't feel like it does getting it here at the series."

Two of Little League's top international teams matched each other on the mound for six-plus innings, with Japan starter Yoshiki Suzuki striking out seven and Mexico counterpart Alonso Garcia fanning six.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.