Game 23: Mexico 3 vs. Asia  Pacific 2

Mexico stays perfect in Pool D play as the Guadalupe Trevino Kelly Little Leaguers use three solo homers, their first of the Series, to sneak past Asia-Pacific, 3-2.

Author: Allie Weinberger - Special Correspondent

Source: South Williamsport, Pa.

Date/Time: Tuesday, August 25, 2009, 6:00pm ET

It’s not that the game didn’t matter. In fact, that wasn’t the case at all.

Despite the fact that both the Asia-Pacific champs from Kuei-Shan Little League and the Mexico all-stars from Guadalupe Trevino Kelly Little League were already set to advance into the second round, both teams agreed that they were playing for much more than just practice as they took the field Tuesday night at Volunteer Stadium.

The game would determine who would win and who would place second in Pool D play in the 2009 Little League World Series. It would decide who must face undefeated Curacao and who would take on annual powerhouse Japan. More importantly, the game, eventually won by Mexico, 3-2, would be played for pride, passion and pool play perfection.

“Because we were already moving on, we were looking at this like a pool championship,” said manager Cheng Ta Lee through interpreter Ming Huang Yeh.

“We all knew we had advanced to the second round,” said Mexico manager Agustin Montoya. “But we were going to play hard against a good team.”

“Good” is an understatement. Both sides entered their final pool play contest batting over .400. But their bats were only part of the lethal combination.

Asia-Pacific not only boasted a sub-.100 opponent batting average (.065), the Chinese Taipei Little Leaguers hadn’t allowed a single run in their two previous outings. Meanwhile, Mexico, with a comparably bloated .128 opponent batting average but a whopping 23 hits to its name, hadn’t yet found real estate beyond the 225-foot fence.

Both of those facts would change quickly Tuesday night.

With pitcher Cheng Chieh Lee on the hill with one out in the top of the first, Luis Trevino – 1-for-3 in his previous two games – wasted no time getting his team on the road to their goals, slugging Mexico’s first home run of the Series. It was a no-doubter, high and far and well beyond the reach of outfield onlookers.

“I’m very pleased with it,” Montoya said of the return of power hitting to his team. “We hit the ball stronger, harder this game. But I feel that we made more contact the previous games. We still have to make the adjustments on staying back on some pitches.”

“It feels great,” Trevino said of his homer. “I woke the team up and I feel really happy.”

And after Marcelo Martinez made quick work of Asia-Pacific in the bottom of the first, Berrones made the one-out home run a pattern with his own shot to centerfield to run the score to 2-0.

The Chinese Taipei all-stars mustered just a pair of baserunners through the third frame, both put on by way of the walk, after averaging 10.5 hits per game to open the Series.

“The Mexico pitching, especially the lefty pitcher, are doing a very good job,” said Lee. “This pitcher, he got really good combinations. He was looking good. The issue was he is just so slow. Our coach was reminding the batter to slow down because he was pitching it so slow. [He told them] if there was a timing issue between the pitcher and the batter, step out and call time.”

Mexico was back at it again to lead off the fourth, this time courtesy of Luis Perez, who took Lee deep for the third time in four innings, ripping the pitch toward the scoreboard in left field where the ball snuck just underneath the bottom panels.

Lee would leave the game in favor of hurler Chin Ou, who retired the rest of the side in order.

But his counterpart Martinez just wouldn’t budge. Averaging 18.2 pitches per inning through 4.2, he struck out the side twice, allowing just four baserunners and taking a no-hit bid through four and two-thirds. In fact, despite striking out just once every 5.73 batters entering Tuesday’s competition – Asia-Pacific had struck out just 11 times – the team more than doubled their Series total against Martinez (12) – that’s a strikeout every 1.5 plate appearances.

“We gave [Martinez] a second opportunity to prove himself and prove to us that he could throw,” said Montoya. “He came in really nervous [against Canada Saturday] and wasn’t hitting his spots. We gave his a vote of confidence in this round and he was definitely more relaxed.

“Even though it was a crucial game, he knew nothing would change from it,” Montoya continued. “He gained confidence and gave confidence to all of us in considering him for the second round of the championship.”

And when the young hurler maxed out on his 85-pitch limit, he confidently walked off the mound, tipping his cap as he headed to his new position in centerfield.

“Every batter faces different pitchers,” said Lee. “You have to get used to facing a different pitcher. I was telling the team just slow down. [But] when they changed to a new pitcher, for us we had a new chance.”

Mexico threatened again in the fifth when a looper into shallow left, a single to right and a hit batsman, all in consecutive order with two outs, loaded the bases for Perez, but reliever Wen Hua Sung got the clean-up man out swinging, stranding the trio.

In the latter half of the same frame, Chinese Taipei would get two runners on board for the first time, the second coming on a two-out hit-by-pitch after the departure of Martinez. Yuan Ting Tai came to the plate representing the game-tying run to face reliever Jorge Maldonado.

But it wasn’t to be, as Tai lined Maldonado’s offering into the waiting glove of third baseman Raul Rojas.

But the Kuei-Shan Little Leaguers weren’t going down without a fight. Down to his team’s final three outs of the game, Sung stepped up to the plate and proved one thing on the first pitch of the frame: there would be no combined no-no tonight.

He vaulted Maldonado’s first offering over the centerfield wall, cutting Mexico’s lead to 3-1 with three outs remaining.

[We just had to] pick him up and cheer his up,” said Trevino of Maldonado after he gave up the shot. “It was the first out so we couldn’t let him down.”

“I personally told him not to worry about it,” said Martinez. “[I told him to] pick his head up and just to put all his effort and all his energy into keeping pitching to get the win.”

One out later, Po Chuan Pan cut the visitor’s lead in half when he lofted a towering fly ball into center. With two outfielders running for the ball, Barrones took over but lost the ball in center, allowing it to fall in. As Pan rounded second, Barrones picked up the ball and threw into third where his throw hit the runner and ricocheted away, sending Pan home and close the gap to 3-2.

One more out brought in hard-throwing closer Rojas to face Kuan Sheng Huang.

“I felt really nervous when we were 3-2 and we had two outs,” said Perez. “I didn’t know what was gonna happen, but when they put Raul in to pitch I felt better.”

“I actually felt really good, really confident on the last out that my friend Raul was going to get the job done,” echoed Trevino.

And just like that, with a 2-2 count, Rojas would complete the victory, getting Huang to strike out swinging.

“He threw a slider for a ball for the last out,” Montoya said, “and fortunately, he swung at it.”

With the win, Mexico moves to a perfect 3-0 in Pool D play and earns the right to face Japan (2-1) in Wednesday’s International semifinal. Asia-Pacific (2-1) will move on to play Curacao (3-0) in Thursday’s semifinal.