Game 11
2 vs. West 9
Sunday, August 22, 2004
3:00PM ET

Wild, Wild West
After long wait, California makes its presence felt with six-run third inning

By Mike Lipka

The Conejo Valley All-Stars confirmed it. Waiting is, in fact, the hardest part.

After arriving in South Williamsport Tuesday, the West champions had their opening-night match-up with New England rained out Friday, and after an off-day Saturday, they found themselves to be the only squad that hadn’t yet taken the field.

“The rainout just killed us,” said starting pitcher Cody Thomson. “We wanted to play pretty bad.”

Sunday, it showed. North Carolina starter Andrew Martin was able to hold the hitters from Thousand Oaks, Calif. off the scoreboard for the first two innings, but the Westerners exploded for six runs on six hits in the third en route to a 9-2 Pool A win at Lamade Stadium in front of the largest crowd so far this week (17,600).

“We wanted to come out here and make a statement,” said West coach Tom Ginther. “After 10 days of not playing, this was a great way to come back out here.”

Coming from a state that has been to the Little League World Series Championship Game 19 times with five championships, Conejo Valley appeared primed to uphold California’s reputation, banging out 13 hits and three home runs to rival Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in terms of muscle.

“The California team was a very disciplined hitting team,” said North Carolina coach Alan Lail, whose team falls to 1-1. “They sat back and waited, and hit the ball around the field.”

In the third, they didn’t wait any more. Leadoff hitter and center fielder Timmy Ginther started the big inning off with a perfect bunt single, then trotted in on Danny Leon’s laser home run to dead center field – Leon’s fourth home run in his last three games.

“I got a curveball on a full count,” Leon said. “I just turned my hips like my dad’s [coach Frank Leon] been telling me. That bat has so much pop.”

It turned out Thousand Oaks had plenty of pop left, too. Sean McIntyre reached on an error, Jordan Brower singled and pinch-runner Adam Justiniano scored on John Lister’s sharp double. After Brower scored on a passed ball, Thomson got the squeeze bunt down to plate Lister. To cap the inning, 11-year-old Evan Ocello rapped a single, then scored on Derrick Francis’s two-out double.

Conejo Valley added three more in the fifth, when Tyler Karp and John Lister (four straight games with a HR) started the inning with back-to-back solo shots, then Justiniano walked and came around on Francis’s single and second RBI.

“John and Tyler just hit it far,” Leon said.

“It was low,” Lister said of the pitch he clobbered to center field. “I just got the barrel through and lifted it out.”

But as impressive as Thousand Oaks’ fireworks were from the plate, they also flashed an arsenal on the hill.

If not for a (generously scored) leadoff single in the first inning by Aaron Attaway, West starter and winning pitcher Thomson could have gotten through his three innings without allowing a base hit. Both times he put a pair of men on to start the inning (via Attaway’s hit and walks in the first and third), he responded by getting the next three, including five of his six strikeouts.

“He runs into these predicaments every once in a while,” Tom Ginther said. “But he settles down … He comes out there and shows his guts.”

He’ll get to do it again on Tuesday, as the manager was able to take out Thomson early to save his arm. Three pitchers (McIntyre, Brower and Karp) each tossed an inning in relief.

“We got ourselves in a good situation for the next two games,” Thomson said. “We’ve got a lot of pitching left.”

North Carolina got on the board in the fifth on Trevor Tallent’s second home run of the tournament and Martin’s RBI single, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Still, Morganton Little League can give itself a good shot to advance by beating New England tomorrow (Volunteer Stadium, 7 p.m.) in its final game of pool play.

“The one thing I was proud of today was that we didn’t just lay down and quit,” Lail said. “I think they’ll be ready to play tomorrow … They know there’s nothing they can do about this game.”

Meanwhile, Thousand Oaks won’t have much of a wait this time – they play 0-2 Midwest tomorrow at 3 p.m. at Volunteer in hopes of all but clinching a spot in the U.S. Semifinals.

“We just keep playing,” Tom Ginther said. “I don’t predict anything.”

But now that South Williamsport has finally seen Thousand Oaks play, other people might start doing the predicting for them.

Click here for box scores

Photography by Caroline Connolley

© 2004 Little League Baseball Incorporated