California, Japan reach LLWS final

Updated: August 24, 2013, 9:25 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- When California starter Nick Mora had to leave the game with one out to go, he wasn't too happy.

"I wanted that complete game. I was kind of disappointed," Mora said.

He was all smiles moments later when reliever Giancarlo Cortez recorded the final out, completing Chula Vista's 12-1 victory over Westport, Conn., in the U.S. title game of the Little League World Series on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeChula VIsta
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarChula Vista, Calif., beat Westport, Conn., 12-1 in the U.S. title game on Saturday.

California will play Japan for the World Series title on Sunday.

Mora gave California the spark it needed with ace right-hander Grant Holman not eligible to pitch until Sunday. Mora struck out 10 and walked only one before reaching his pitch limit.

"When I was pitching, I knew most of their weaknesses and I was able to hit those spots," said Mora, who also drove in four runs with a homer and single. "When I was hitting, I wasn't trying to hit a home run. I was just trying to hit a line drive up the middle. That's when the home runs come."

California took a 6-1 lead in the first two innings against the New England champions, scoring three times in the first with the help of some sloppy Connecticut play, and adding three more on Mora's long three-run homer in the second.

The West champions added six runs in the sixth on a passed ball, a wild pitch, an error, Mora's RBI single, and a two-run double by Michael Gaines.

It had been a memorable World Series for both teams.

The 6-foot-4 Holman pitched the first extra-inning no-hitter in the Little League World Series since 1979, striking out 13 in seven innings in a 3-0 first-round victory over Grosse Pointe, Mich.

Holman also won Wednesday night's game against Connecticut with a three-run homer in the ninth inning, and he hit a grand slam in the fourth inning that ended a mercy rule-shortened 15-3 victory over Newark, Del.

For Connecticut, Chad Knight lined a run-scoring single to deep left field in the seventh inning to give the New England champions a wild 14-13 win over Sammamish, Wash., on Friday. He also hit a solo homer to tie it at 13 in the fifth.

Westport was torched for 10 runs in the fourth inning by Sammamish, then rallied with seven runs in the fifth to tie it. They did it with power, also getting home runs from Alex Reiner, Max Popken, Tatin Llamas and Ricky Offenberg.

Perhaps worn out from all that excitement and with not much time to recover, Connecticut fell behind early against California and couldn't muster another valiant rally.

"I want these guys to immediately celebrate their success and forget about this game," Connecticut manager Tim Rogers said. "We lost to a fantastic team. We have to remember we are one of the last two teams in the USA."

Chula Vista scored three times in the first inning when Connecticut committed three errors. Micah Pietila-Wiggs led off with a single, his eighth hit of the World Series, and Jake Espinoza reached second on an error after grounding into a force play.

Mora then reached on an error by third baseman Harry Azadian, and Holman singled to left, getting to third when the ball went through the legs of outfielder Charlie Roof. When Cortez followed with an RBI single, California had a 3-0 lead.

"We came out a little flat," Rogers said. "I don't think we've ever made five errors in a game. That's a great hitting team. They look for a fastball and keep fouling off the curveballs."

Matt Stone's RBI single in the first put Connecticut on the board, but California came right back again.

Pietila-Wiggs singled again, this time through the pitcher's legs, Espinoza beat out a high bouncer to the mound, and Mora crushed a 3-0 pitch from Connecticut starter Knight onto the hill well beyond the fence in right-center for a 6-1 lead.

Knight settled down after that, striking out the side in the third and retiring the side in order in the fourth. He went to the dugout having thrown 74 pitches, just 11 from the maximum allowed under Little League rules, but his teammates couldn't produce one last rally as Mora held the New England champions at bay.

"We went to work right after the game on Wednesday that (Knight) pitched (against us)," California manager Rick Tibbett said. "We wanted to make him work, foul some pitches off and get his pitch count up. They played a heck of game (Friday). We knew what they were capable of. We didn't want the same situation to happen to us. We had to keep plugging away and getting runs."

Mora struck out the side in the second, allowed one hit in the third, and faced only three batters in the fourth as Connecticut blundered again.

Stone lofted a high fly to left that Michael Gaines appeared to lose in the sun. The ball caromed off his glove for an error. Stone, however, was out trying to reach second when Pietila-Wiggs took the throw, blocked the bag with his feet, and slapped a tag on him.

Connecticut challenged the call, but it stood after a video replay.

Chula Vista's victory came 50 years to the day after California defeated Connecticut 2-1 for the 1963 Little League World Series title.

Japan 3, Mexico 2

Defense, finesse, power and poise. As usual, Japan has it all, and it is returning to the Little League World Series title game again.

Takuma Gomi led off the top of the sixth inning with a tiebreaking home run, and Tokyo beat Tijuana, Mexico, 3-2 on Saturday to win the international title.

It was the 11th win a row in the international bracket for Japan, which hasn't lost a game since 2009. Japan will make its sixth appearance in eight years in the World Series finals and will play either Chula Vista, Calif., on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeKazuki Ishida
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarTokyo, Japan, beat Tijuana, Mexico, 3-2 to win the international title at the Little League World Series.

The U.S. title game was played later Saturday.

Japan and Mexico have faced off 15 times in World Series history, and Japan improved to 10-5 against its rival when Gomi homered over the wall in right-center field.

"I was happy when I hit it -- not because I hit a home run but because it gave our team the lead," Gomi said. "I was just trying to get on base, so I let the ball come in deeper. That's why it went to right field."

Mexico was after a payback of sorts, having dropped a 5-2 decision to Japan on Wednesday. The Tokyo team confounded Tijuana manager Francisco Fimbres, powering to the victory behind home runs by starting pitcher Kazuki Ishida and Seiya Nishin, and hitting three doubles.

"We thought Japan would play small ball, and they changed strategy," Fimbres said. "They were free-swinging it. I think it's important to have a lot of patience. Our pitchers may have to be a lot smarter. Two mistakes cost us two home runs."

Another huge mistake on Saturday cost Mexico again.

With the score tied at 2, Brandon Montes led off the bottom of the fifth with a double down the left-field line. The next batter, Martin Gonzalez, was fooled for strike three but reached base when Japan catcher Ryusei Hirooka's throw pulled the first baseman off the bag. Montes moved to third, and Mexico's vociferous fans chanted, `Let's go Mexico.'

Keita Saito relieved and struck out Mendoza. Japan then got a huge break.

Saul Favela slammed a high fly to deep center, and Montes took a few steps toward home, stopped, and didn't have time to go back and tag up. He was stranded at third when Brandon Meza struck out as Fimbres boiled.

"I think the nerves got to him," Fimbres said. "It's a play we've practiced all summer. It was the perfect setup for a sacrifice fly. He knew he was supposed to run. He's 13 and he's human. He's going to make mistakes. I'm still proud of him. We have to remember these are still kids."

Moments later, Gomi put his team ahead with a homer off reliever Jorge Romero. He was then mobbed by his teammates.

"I was relieved when the game was over," Japan manager Masumi Omae said. "It was a nerve-racking game with all the pitching decisions and the pressure. We told the kids going in that we would go all out to win. Every pitcher had to be ready to throw

"I really thought he (Montes) was coming home on that fly ball. When he didn't, I felt really fortunate."

Mexico threatened one last time in the sixth but was foiled by Japan's stout defense. Jorge Rodriguez led off with a single and was forced at second on Romero's sacrifice attempt. Luis Manzo then hit a grounder into the hole at shortstop, and Sho Miyao gloved it and got the force at second on a close play. Mexico challenged the call, but it stood. Miguel Artalejo grounded to short to end it.

Mexico trailed 2-0 but tied it in the third against reliever Kensuke Tsuchida. Martin Gonzalez led off with a single, and Ramon Mendoza hit a screaming line drive over the center-field wall. He was congratulated by his teammates after crossing the plate.

Japan starter Nishino had pitched only one inning in the World Series, and starting first baseman Tsuchida was warming up before the game's first pitch.

Japan scored a run in the top of the first on just one hit. Miyao walked, took second on a wild pitch, and scored on a single to right field by Shunpei Takagi.

Mexico starter Manzo settled down after that, striking out four of the next five batters, two looking and two swinging.

Tijuana left fielder Alexander Artalejo was hit hard on the left elbow leading off the second, and Mexico quickly threatened. Rodriguez followed with a sizzling liner to left, and the runners moved up on a passed ball. Nishino then walked Romero to load the bases with nobody out and was relieved by Tsuchida.

Playing the sound fundamental ball it is known for, Japan escaped with its 1-0 lead intact. Manzo hit a dribbler in front of the plate, and Tsuchida flipped the ball to Hirooka for the force at home.

Artalejo then hit a sharp grounder to short, and Miyao got another force at home. Montes, who had four home runs in the World Series, struck out swinging to end the inning.

Japan made it 2-0 in the third. Ishida singled hard up the middle, and Miyao followed with an infield single off Manzo's glove, putting runners at first and second with one out. Ishida was caught trying to take third on a pitch in the dirt that Mexico catcher Favela made a terrific backhand stab on.

Shunpei Takagi singled to right to keep the rally alive, sending Miyao to third. Miyao scored on a passed ball for a 2-0 lead, barely beating the throw as he eluded Favela's tag.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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