SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — Grant Holman almost gave away a crucial victory with his arm, then took it back with his bat.
After being victimized for a three-run homer that put his Chula Vista, Calif., team in a hole on Wednesday night, the tall right-hander hit a three-run homer in the top of the ninth, and California rallied for a 6-3 victory over New England champion Westport, Conn., to earn a berth in the U.S. championship game at the Little League World Series.
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“All I wanted to do was hit it hard,” Holman said, his right arm in ice after a 10-strikeout performance and winning reliever Rennard Williams smiling at his side.
Micah Pietila-Wiggs laced a one-out single to left, his third hit of the game, to start the ninth and Jake Espinoza followed with a double to right-center before Holman connected off reliever Alex Reiner.
Chula Vista’s bullpen came up big, shutting down Westport over the final five innings.
“It was fabulous,” Chula Vista manager Rick Tibbett said about his relief corps. “That’s what they do.”
Matt Brown hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the fourth for Connecticut, and the Northeast champions seemed headed for a big victory.
But California shortstop Nick Mora hit his second homer of the game to make it 3-2 with one out in the top of the sixth and Chula Vista tied it when Reiner threw a wild pitch with the bases loaded.
The victory snapped Connecticut’s 20-game winning streak.
“It’s disappointing, of course, to lose,” Westport manager Tim Rogers said. “It’s painful to be so close to winning and lose. Obviously, they’re a very talented team. There’s no holes in their lineup whatsoever. We’ll play tomorrow.”
Westport plays Northwest champion Sammamish, Wash., on Thursday. Sammamish (3-1) moved on to the matchup in the U.S. bracket by eliminating Nashville, Tenn., 6-5 on Tuesday. Westport was coming off a 9-7 victory over Sammamish on Sunday.
Holman pitched 3 2-3 strong innings. Chasing his second no-hitter of the World Series, Holman had struck out nine — including the first six batters he faced, swinging — and was cruising when Max Popken drew a leadoff walk to start the fourth. Harry Azadian broke up Holman’s no-hit bid with a single to right field and Brown then homered.
TOKYO, JAPAN 5, TIJUANA, MEXICO 2
The big bats of Tijuana, Mexico, were silenced by Tokyo, Japan, in the first game Wednesday.
When Brandon Montes crushed a home run off Japan starter Kazuki Ishida, the big bats of Mexico seemed ready to rumble again.
“I definitely felt chills,” Ishida said. “But I made sure to keep my composure and keep on throwing.”
Taken out after three innings with an eye on a future game, Ishida slammed a tie-breaking home run in the bottom of the fifth inning and unbeaten Tokyo rallied past powerful Tijuana 5-2 on Wednesday to earn a berth in the international championship game at the Little League World Series.
Westport, Conn., faced powerful Chula Vista, Calif., under the lights in Wednesday’s other game in the double-elimination tournament.
Ishida’s blast came off Tijuana starter Ramon Mendoza. Kouyou Mizushima followed with an RBI single and pinch-hitter Kyousuke Kobayashi capped the winning rally for Japan (3-0) with an RBI double off the left-center field wall.
“I’m glad that we won. Everybody’s starting to get their groove back,” said Seiya Nishino, whose pinch-hit home run tied it at 2 in the fourth.
Mexico (2-1) still has a shot. It will play Aguadulce, Panama, on Thursday in a rematch. Mendoza hit two of Tijuana’s five home runs in a 13-0 four-inning win over Panama on Sunday in the winners’ bracket. That game was stopped because of Little League’s 10-run rule, the second time Mexico had done that in the World Series.
Not on this day, though.
Ishida and winning reliever Ryutarro Takeo kept the Mexican players off-balance with a variety of off-speed pitches, never allowing the Tijuana offense to get untracked. Mexico, which also beat Perth, Australia, 12-0 in 4 innings last week, managed just five hits against Japan.
“They handle their pitchers well,” Tijuana manager Francisco Fimbres said. “They paint the corners, a lot of breaking balls down low. I’ll have to congratulate Japan’s pitchers. The first two games we hit great. It might have been a little bit of nervousness with the importance of the game.”
Mexico took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second. Axcel Mandujano reached on an error by third baseman Shunpei Takagi, who bobbled Mandujano’s bouncer and threw wide of first as the Mexican player ducked under the tag.
The call stood as ruled after a challenge by Japan, and after Jorge Romero bounced into a fielder’s choice, eliminating pinch-runner Luis Manzo, left-handed hitting shortstop Jorge Rodriguez doubled down the left-field line over the outstretched glove of Kobayashi to score Romero from first.
Japan evened the score in the bottom of the second. Kouyou Mizushima had a hustling double to right center and scored on a two-out single up the middle by Ryusei Hirooka.
Montes, who homered on the fifth pitch of the game in Mexico’s rout of Panama, struck again in the top of the third. He slammed an 0-1 delivery well over the fence in left-center for a 2-1 lead.
Mendoza got out of a big jam in the bottom of the inning as his pitch count mounted. He walked Ishida to start the inning and Sho Miyao followed with an infield single that caromed off Mendoza’s glove. That gave Japan two men on and nobody out, but first baseman Jorge Rodriguez robbed Shunpei Takagi with a beautiful stop behind the bag as the runners moved into scoring position and Mendoza induced two weak popups to escape.
Mendoza ran out of luck in the bottom of the fourth when Nishino crushed a 1-0 pitch far over the fence in center to tie it again.