Canada outlasts Mexico with defense
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Outfielder Thomas Neal's lunging catch saved an extra-base hit and helped Vancouver, British Columbia, beat Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, 13-9 on Friday in a Little League World Series slugfest.
The teams combined for 27 hits, but several defensive gems by Canada had fans buzzing.
Neal's catch was the most impressive after Mexico's Eduardo Abrego smacked a sinking liner to left-center with two outs in the third and a runner on first. Neal dashed to his right before diving for the catch with an outstretched glove just before the ball hit the turf.
"The moment I saw it, I just had this feeling he was going to catch it," said pitcher Ataru Yamaguchi.
The 13-year-old outfielder let out a roar before being mobbed by teammates on his way back to the dugout.
"I told him he was my best friend now," the 13-year-old Yamaguchi joked. "He wasn't before. He was my fourth (best friend), just to clarify."
Canada led 8-1 in the top of the second before Mexico rallied with the long ball. Ramon Ballina hit two homers.
Mexico manager Fernando Rios kept the message simple in encouraging his players after they fell behind.
"Basically our work is to cheer them up and to tell them not to give up," he said through interpreter Sergio Guzman. "And not to be impatient at the plate. Just hit some good baseballs."
Canada escaped another jam in the sixth to hold on. Neal caught a hard liner to center and nearly threw the ball into the infield expecting runners to tag before realizing it was the last out of the game.
He wasn't the only Canada player who impressed with the glove. Third baseman Kolby Buljevic grabbed a tough bouncer to set up a double play just before Neal's sparkling catch in the third. Left fielder Carter Kada-Wong later fell backward to catch a high fly that was made more difficult because of steady showers.
"Our defense has been the strongest point of our team," said manager Vito Bordignon. "We've made so many plays and unbelievable plays."
Indiana 4, Oregon 0
Mason Gillis drove in two runs with a check-swing double in a four-run fifth for New Castle, Ind., to break open a pitcher's duel in a 4-0 win against Greshem, Ore.
Cory Murphy started the scoring spree with a single, moved to second on a sacrifice and scored on two wild pitches. Gillis followed four batters later with the half-hearted swing that turned into a hit down the right-field line.
Until then, the last two teams to open play in the series played a tense game dominated from the mound.
Indiana's Cayden Smekens struck out seven over three innings, and two relievers preserved the shutout with three innings of hitless relief. Oregon's Greg Mehlhaff also had seven strikeouts before being lifted after Indiana broke it open in the fifth.
Panama 9, Uganda 3
Win or lose, the Little League World Series team from Uganda has become a hometown favorite.
The first team from Africa to advance to South Williamsport in the 66-year history of the tourney did fall in its debut Friday. Panama defeated the boys from Lugazi, 9-3.
Uganda's coaches said they didn't expect any parents of the players to make the expensive transatlantic trip to Pennsylvania.
But Uganda has still drawn vocal fans who cheered wildly, especially after Daniel Alio's towering home run to center in the sixth. He showed off a homer trot that would have made David Ortiz proud.
It's been a special month already for Uganda sports after Stephen Kiprotich won gold in the men's marathon race at the London Olympics.
They managed just three hits. They committed four errors.
But they had their share of highlights, too, like Alio's homer.
Or Alio backpedaling into short right to make a tough catch on a high popup.
Or pitcher Tonny Okello making a lunging catch of a weak popup on the first-base line while trying to avoid the runner.
Not a bad start at all considering this team is used to playing back home on old soccer fields strewn with pebbles and the occasional anthill.
Uganda's coaches hope their trip to the series helps build more interest in baseball back home, where soccer is the dominant sport.
Panama's pint-sized players had their own treat Friday when injured Phillies All-Star catcher Carlos Ruiz visited the team from his native country.
He encouraged them to have fun but to work hard on the diamond. Looks like they listened.
Ruiz said major leaguers always pay attention to the Little League World Series.
"They have fun seeing the kids when the play, and they see how happy they are playing the game," Ruiz said through interpreter Carlos Pagan.
Texas 5, New Jersey 2
Jordan Cardenas homered and pitched 2 1/3 innings of hitless relief, and San Antonio, Texas, took advantage of defensive miscues to beat Parsippany, N.J., 5-2.
Cardenas gave Texas an early lead with his solo shot to right in the bottom of the first.
The Southwest champions added three more runs in the second on two outfield errors. Starting pitcher Tyler Vitt had singled to center in the inning and came around to score on a three-base error.
Playing in a steady rain, New Jersey broke through in the fourth after Anthony Scannelli's single to make it 4-1. Cardenas relieved Vitt and walked D.J. Pico with the bases loaded to force in another run before retiring seven in a row.
Texas wasn't used to the playing conditions after playing its regional tournament in Waco with temperatures often in the triple digits.
Vitt struggled a bit with his command in the hard rain in the fourth.
"The ball got slippery and the mound turned to thick clay," he said. "It was tough."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.