Game 7
4 vs. Pacific 1
Saturday, August 21, 2004
5:00PM ET

Extra-special Saudis
Transatlantic All-Stars edge Saipan in seven innings as Pool D heats up

By Mike Lipka

One minute, Mark Lumpa appeared doomed. The Saudi Arabian reliever was standing on the Volunteer Stadium mound, the bases around him full of Saipan runners, with the winning run on third and one out in the bottom of the sixth inning. What was he thinking?

“Throw strikes,” Lumpa said. “Cause I knew if I threw balls, the game was over.”

About five minutes later, he was standing on second base, pumping his fists in celebration after delivering the go-ahead hit for his Arabian-American All-Stars from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

Lumpa used a huge strikeout and induced an inning-ending ground ball to get out of trouble in the sixth, then whacked a huge two-run double to give the Transatlantic squad a 4-1 win over the Pacific team in seven suspenseful innings in front of a crowd of 4,700.

In a tournament that has lacked much late-inning excitement so far, Saudi Arabia and Saipan confirmed that the best, most exciting baseball in South Williamsport is being played in Pool D. Just hours after Curacao edged Mexico in a thrilling 3-2 affair, their poolmates were the first to need extra innings to decide things.

The Arabian-American All-Stars have been to South Williamsport 10 of the past 11 years, but for a team whose closest game in regionals was a five-run win (they went 8-0 and outscored their opponents 113-4, they adjusted amazingly well.

“The coaches really helped us,” Lumpa said. “They knew what Williamsport was like.”

The game had been deadlocked at one since the second inning, but Saipan seemed primed to end it in the sixth when they loaded the bases with one out on a hit batsman, a double by Ike Alden and an intentional walk. But Lumpa struck out David Camacho, then got Phillip Manolo to ground to second.

“We were hoping the boys were just going to make simple contact,” said Saipan coach Anthony Benavente. “It looked like some of them were too aggressive to try and hit a solid drive.”

Saudi Arabia hit plenty of those in the top of the seventh. Matt Timoney and Joel Reimer both singled, then made it second and third with one out after a wild pitch.

“I was excited, cause I had just made the last out,” Timoney said. “And I was like, ‘Ugh.’”

Lumpa, a left-handed hitter, then ripped a shot to the gap in left-center to score both runners. Third baseman Craig Denker then provided some insurance by scoring Lumpa with a double down the left-field line.

“We were really happy,” Reimer said. “We knew that we had a good upper hand on it then.”

The three-run lead was plenty for Lumpa in the bottom of the seventh. He allowed a leadoff single, but after a strikeout, the game ended on a unique double play. The Saudis tried to turn a traditional two, but after an overthrow past first, they settled for the twin killing by tagging out the runner who had broke for second.

“We just got to stop trying to kill the ball and be smart,” Benavente said. “Our defense was OK, but our bats were not there.”

Some of that defense made the game even more exciting – and helped frustrate the Transatlantic. Saudi Arabia had a pair of chances to break a 1-1 tie in the top of the third, but a deep fly to right couldn’t score a runner from third with one out, and Saipan shortstop Ofero Taitano saved two runs on a nice ranging play up the middle with two outs.

Transatlantic had at least two men on base in the second, third, fourth and fifth, but couldn’t plate more than one run. Taitano flashed his glove again in the fifth, going back on a shallow fly ball to left-center to keep Pacific out of trouble.

“I told our kids around the fourth or fifth inning that we’ve had our opportunities and had our opportunities. Let’s capitalize on some now,” said Saudi manager Tommy Bumstead. “I was really pleased with their poise throughout the ballgame.”

Lumpa, especially, was poised when he was forced into a tough spot relieving Saudi starter Josh Amado with two men on in the third. But Lumpa eased the Arabian-Americans out of a jam by inducing a pair of grounders to second.

On the other side, Donovan George pitched five solid innings for Saipan before he was relieved by Antonio Rogolifoi, Jr.

The Pacific squad had jumped ahead in the bottom of the first when Phillip Manolo and Taitano both singled and Manolo scored on an error caused by pitcher Donovan George’s shot to first base. But Transatlantic quickly answered in the top of the second when Craig Denker singled, advanced to second on a passed ball, then scored on Kyle Al-Sughaiyer’s base hit.

An impressive extra-inning win is a start, but this Saudi team wants to do a little more to distinguish itself from its predecessors, who have all come up short of the ultimate prize.

“We got everything better than all the past teams, we think,” Reimer said. But perhaps the most important thing? “We work as a team better.”

Click here for box scores

Photography by Caroline Connolley

© 2004 Little League Baseball Incorporated