California wins LLWS championship
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- An American flag draped around his shoulders, Braydon Salzman couldn't contain his glee when he found California teammate Nick Pratto to give him a postgame hug.
The boys from Huntington Beach are headed home with a Little League World Series championship.
Pratto singled in the winning run with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of sixth inning, and Salzman pitched a complete-game three-hitter in a 2-1 victory Sunday over Hamamatsu City, Japan, and the tournament title.
"USA! USA," yelled fans before Pratto's single.
"I was just thinking, 'Oh God, Oh God,' before I was getting in the box," the 12-year-old Pratto said. "But once I got into the box I calmed myself by telling myself to just look for a good pitch."
Pratto's clutch hit returned the World Series title to the United States with the type of victory even the big leaguers dream about. A U.S. team has now won six out of the last seven World Series, with Japan's win last year the exception.
Pratto tossed his helmet into the air after rounding first before his teammates mobbed him in the infield. The teams exchanged handshakes at the plate before California's giddy players posed at the mound with their new championship banner.
"My team is physically smaller than most of the teams. We didn't think we would get to this stage," Japan manager Akihiro Suzuki, who fought back tears after the game, said through interpreter Kotaro Omori. "All of the players did such a wonderful job to get to this stage."
With runners on first and second, an error by Japan shortstop Gaishi Iguchi on what could have been an inning-ending double play loaded the bases for California. After a force play at the plate, Pratto smacked a solid liner to center off reliever Kazuto Takakura that brought pinch-runner Eric Anderson home with the winning run.
Pratto did his father, manager Jeff Pratto, proud. Nick Pratto said it was great to have his father as his coach, "but he kind of gets on my nerves sometimes."
It was a fitting end to a tense game marked by excellent pitching and timely defense.
Japan starter Shoto Totsuka struck out five over 4 1/3 innings, giving up a homer to right to California slugger Hagen Danner.
First pitch was delayed more than three hours after the outer bands of Hurricane Irene brought more rain than expected to the Williamsport area.
"The result was bad, but they really tried their best," Suzuki said. "Today's weather was difficult for us to get used too. If the weather was like this in Japan, we wouldn't have played."
The clouds finally started parting midway through the game, and sunshine draped the complex by the time the California players left the stadium to cheers by friends and family.
Neither team could convert on several chances to break open the pitcher's duel earlier in the game.
With runners on first and second in the top of the sixth, third baseman Dylan Palmer blocked the bag from sliding Japan runner Ken Igeta on a bunt play to help get California get out the inning.
California put runners on first and second with two outs in the fifth, but Takakura got a flyout to end the inning.
Playing right field in the second, Takakura also made a running catch on fly down the line to save an extra-base hit with a runner on second.
It was Japan running all over the place in the third, flashing trademark hustle to scratch out the game's first run after Seiya Fujita's solid single to left. Pinch-runner Kaito Suzuki moved to second on a bunt and raced toward third with no one covering. The throw bounced into foul territory, allowing Suzuki to score easily.
In a gracious postgame gesture, Japan's players and coaches lined up and exchanged high-fives with the California kids after Huntington Beach did the traditional victory lap around the stadium warning track.
"It's just a dream come true," Danner said. "I never thought we would be in that spot, let alone winning it."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press