Game 17
6 vs. Transatlantic 1
Monday, August 23, 2004
5:00PM ET

For sure, it’s Curacao
Caribbean squad takes first place in Pool D with convincing win over Saudis

By Mike Lipka

For a quartet that has seen two extra-inning games, a one-run duel, a walk-off home run and no real blowouts, Pool D drew to somewhat of an anticlimactic decision Monday when Sorick Liberia flipped the ball to Christopher Garia to finish off a game-ending double play.

Faced with the possibility of a three-way tie for first place if the Transatlantic squad could knock off Curacao, the Caribbean representatives took no such chance, and instead took advantage of some early wildness by Saudi Arabia to jump to a 6-1 win before 7,200 at Lamade Stadium.

With the win, Curacao (2-0) clinches first place in Pool D regardless of the outcome of tomorrow’s game against Pacific, thanks to its head-to-head win against second-place Mexico (2-1). Caribbean will now play the second-place team from Pool C Wednesday (4 p.m., Lamade), while Mexico takes on Pool C’s winner Thursday (4 p.m.), both in International Semifinals.

“I am very happy that we clinched first place again,” said Curacao coach Michelangelo Celestina. “We will do our best to win the International Championship this year.”

Saudi Arabia (1-2) jumped ahead in the top of the first when Colt Hankamer doubled and scored on a pair of errors, but the Mexicans countered with three runs in the bottom without the benefit of a hit against Saudi starter Josh Amado. After Ryandel Walter drew a leadoff walk, Liberia reached on an error. After a fielder’s choice, a wild pitch and an intentional walk to Carlos Pineda loaded the bases with one out, Guadalupe plated three on two more wild pitches and Jurickson Profar’s RBI groundout.

“It was a big game today, and our pitcher – he was a little nervous,” said Saudi manager Tommy Bumstead. “I walked out and talked to him in the first inning. He told me, ‘I’m a little jumpy right now.’”

Once handed the lead, Profar was steady, allowing four hits over his next five shutout innings while striking out six. After the right-hander got the save in Curacao’s first win with a clutch strikeout against Mexico, he had no problem going the distance himself Monday for the win.

“In the first inning, I was a little nervous,” Profar said through Celestina. “But I settled down after that.”

Curacao tacked on an insurance run in the fourth when Charlton Martis doubled and scored on Gerson Adamus’s ground ball. The Pabao Little League added two more in the fifth when Liberia slid in safely on Profar’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly and Jonathan Schoop scurried home on a wild pitch.

The team initially thought Schoop had broken his forearm when he was hit by a pitch in Curacao’s opener against Mexico, but doctors decided he was OK. The shortstop said enthusiastically that he felt “good” Monday – he went 2-for-3 with two runs scored.

“He is the shortstop, and he played here last year,” said translator Carlos Pagan. “He is the motor of that team.”

Meanwhile, the Saudis could start the engine, but never got into high gear. Like they have all week, they saw plenty of opportunities Monday, but failed to deliver a big hit to pull them back in the game.

An error and Joel Reimer’s base hit put two on with one out in the third, but Profar got the next two. The Curacao hurler was even more impressive in the fifth, when Colt Hankamer and Logan Vimont both reached to start the inning, but Profar retired three in a row.

“It seemed like every game we had runners in scoring position, if not every inning than every other inning. We just didn’t come up with the big hits when we needed them,” Bumstead said. “That never seemed to be the problem [at the Transatlantic Regional] in Europe [when they scored 113 runs in 8 games … For some reason, we lost some of that punch when we got here.”

The near miss is also nothing new for an Arabian-American All-Star team that has been to South Williamsport 10 of the last 11 years. Two years ago, the Saudis went 2-1, only to miss out on advancing because of the three-way tiebreaker (run differential + head-to-head). Last year, they finished again one win shy of the International Semifinal, something they haven’t reached since 1994.

“The kids came out today knowing that if they won, they would advance,” Bumstead said. “We had already figured out the run differential issue with them, and told them all they had to do was come out and win the game.

“We’ve been working with this group of kids here since they were 9 and 10,” he added. “It’s disappointing, but the kids played their hearts out, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Curacao’s coaches are just as pleased – this is the fourth straight year a team from Willemstad, Curacao has advanced beyond pool play. Each year, the Caribbean squad fell to Asia in the International Championship, including these Pabao All-Stars, who fell to Japan last year.

“I have a lot of faith in this team,” Celestina said. “When one cannot do [something], the others can do it.”.

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© 2004 Little League Baseball Incorporated