California reaches U.S. semis

Updated: August 21, 2012, 11:05 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Powerful Petaluma, Calif., can pitch, too.

Hance Smith's three-run homer in the third broke open a tight game, and reliever-turned-starter Quinton Gago struck out seven over 5 1-3 innings in a 5-0 win Tuesday night over Fairfield, Conn., in the Little League World Series.

California moves on to the U.S. semifinals on Thursday night. Connecticut was eliminated.

The 12-year-old Gago said it was the best performance of his young career, even though he was a little nervous when the night started.

"In the back of my mind, I said 'I am not a starter,'" Gago said as he held on to an ice pack strapped to his left shoulder. "But right as I took the mound, I felt it went away."

Fairfield's best chance came in the second when Michael Ghiorzi led off with a single, and an error made it runners on first and second with nobody out.

But third baseman Cole Tomei charged a bunt and started a 5-6-4 double play, and Gago got a strikeout to end the threat.

"That was completely awesome," Gago said about the double play. "That double play really helped me out a lot. I really liked that."

Ryan Meury led off the Connecticut sixth with a double, and Gago left after a groundout because he had reached his pitch limit. He got a hug from a teammate before heading to the dugout.

Reliever Andrew White closed it out, and the teams exchanged handshakes at the plate before the California kids returned calmly to their dugout while a marching band played in the stands.

After his team won elimination games in three consecutive days, manager Eric Smith said he planned to give his boys Wednesday off. But White quickly reminded him of one trip he promised they could make.

"What about Dairy Queen?" the 12-year-old White asked.

"Oh yeah," Smith said, "I did tell them they could go to Dairy Queen."

Connecticut plans to stick around Williamsport for a little while so the players can finally enjoy some time with their families after three weeks of tournament play. Manager Bill Meury gathered a Fairfield all-star team that's played together for three summers for one final meeting in left field.

"You guys are like brothers. The (coaches) love you guys, and we've had a great three years together," Meury said in recounting the meeting. "You should walk off this field with your head held high because you gave Fairfield one of the best summers they've had in a little while."

Mexico 6, Curacao 2

Ramon Ballina hit a three-run homer and Mexico stayed alive at the Little League World Series with a 6-2 victory over Curacao.

Ballina is now tied for the World Series lead with three homers, but this hot streak is nothing new.

"I hit the ball better in our national tournament, actually," the 13-year-old Ballina said through an interpreter.

Mexico played without manager Fernando Rios, who was suspended for two games after a player on his roster did not bat during a 4-3 victory over Taiwan on Monday night.

Coach Cesar Mata took over for Rios.

"I was worried when I get up this morning," Mata said. "We got the kids together and had a long talk in the dorms. They listened and they were very relaxed. I didn't worry about it after that."

Ballina hit a drive to right-center during Mexico's five-run third inning. Joel Turrubiates had a tying RBI single.

Ballina also came on in relief in the fourth and allowed just one hit to pick up the save.

Curacao pitcher Christopher Koeiman allowed a hit and had five strikeouts during his first trip through the lineup, but Mexico had four consecutive hits in the third.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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