SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Pearland Power!
Jake Orlando hit two blasts and Blake Toler's solo shot in the first set the tone for the mini-mashers from Pearland, Texas, in a 10-8 win Friday over Plymouth, Minn., to get the Little League World Series off to a homer-happy start.
The 13-year-old Orlando finished 4-for-4 with five RBIs. He was cool and collected afterward, speaking as if he were a seasoned major league veteran.
"I would be super-excited to just come up here and watch games, but to play them is 1,000 times better," said Orlando, as his proud father and Texas manager, Mike Orlando, looked on.
Texas hit four home runs and had 12 hits, an offensive barrage in sharp contrast to the crisp pitcher's duel in Friday's first game, when Fairfield, Conn., beat Auburn, Wash., 3-1, on Jack Quinn's tie-breaking two-run double in the fifth.
Manati, Puerto Rico, defeated Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany, 11-0, Friday night, while Tokyo, Japan, beat Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, 4-2, after Ginga Maruoka smacked a three-run homer with two outs in the top of the sixth.
After several days of practice, public appearances and media interviews, the antsy Little Leaguers finally got to play baseball Friday.
But not before a little more pint-sized pomp and circumstance in the morning, complete with a ceremony in which players holding balloons paraded into Volunteer Stadium to the adoring cheers of family, friends and other fans, while "It's A Small World" played on the sound system. A large U.S. flag fluttered in a light breeze beyond the outfield fence on a warm, sunny day.
"This is a great American day to be at the Little League World Series," said NASA astronaut Terry Virts, an honorary guest who also coaches Little League in Friendswood, Texas. It's the next town over from Pearland in the Houston suburbs, so Virts was very familiar with the Lone Star State's Little League representative.
They put on power-hitting display that newly minted Baseball Hall of Famer Andre Dawson would have loved. He held a hitting clinic for Little Leaguers in the morning.
Three hitters after Toler's first-inning homer, Jake Orlando hit a towering fly that easily cleared the hedges beyond the 225-foot wall to give Texas a 3-0 lead. They tacked on five more runs in the second.
Starter Mason Van Noort was in control on the mound with five strikeouts over 2 1/3 no-hit innings, but was lifted in the third to limit his pitch count.
Minnesota broke through against wild Texas relief pitching. Five relievers combined for eight walks and three hits for eight runs, and Minnesota's Colin Quinn grand slam with two outs in the sixth got his team within 10-8 before Pryce Beshoory got a strikeout to end the game.
"It was a lot of fun. It's like driving a Corvette on an icy parking lot, right," skipper Mike Orlando asked rhetorically.
Nate Klein had fun, too, scoring Connecticut's first run in the bottom off the second of the opener before making a nice catch to his left at third base on a line drive to save a possible extra-base hit. Klein finished 2 for 3.
The 12-year-old Klein was so giddy after the second inning that he danced atop third base as he waited for the next frame to start.
"I wasn't really paying a lot of attention, but all of sudden there was a line drive coming at me," Klein said. "I just stuck my glove out."
Nick Nardone went 5 2/3 innings in Connecticut's win, striking out 10 without walking a hitter.
The game also had the first manager's replay challenge, a new wrinkle for this year's tournament. Washington skipper Kai Nahaku lost the challenge after disputing an out call at home that would have given his team the lead.
Puerto Rico 11, Germany 0
The team managed by Jose Valentin, father of major leaguers Jose and Javier Valentin, hit five homers, and two pitchers combined on a one-hitter in a game that ended after four innings because of the 10-run rule. Both sons cheered on from the stands.
The elder Valentin has three grandsons on the team, and two of them made big splashes after Yomar Valentin homered twice and drove in five runs and Victor Valentin also went deep.
Japan 4, Mexico 2
The 12-year-old Marouka didn't waste time when he got to the plate with runners on first and second and two outs, depositing the first pitch from reliever Ricardo Puga over the wall in left-center to finally put Japan on the scoreboard after trailing 1-0 much of the game.
One of the shortest players on the team, the 5-foot-1 Marouka couldn't stop smiling as he rounded the bases, raising both arms before stomping on the plate with his happy teammates waiting to greet him.