Game 26: Southwest 4 vs. Mid-Atlantic 1

Texas Toasts to U.S. Final

Author: By Zach Swartz - Special Correspondent

Source: South Williamsport, Pa.

Date/Time: Wednesday, August 26, 2009, 8:00pm ET

In a perfect world, the Mid-Atlantic Region Champions would have had 12 runs heading into the sixth. After all, they had the bases loaded with one or no outs on three occasions in the first five innings.

But the team from Staten Island was in Williamsport, Pa., not a perfect world. The trio of opportunities ended in a double play each time, squandering the chance to take an early lead in the top of the first, to cut into the Southwest Region Champions’ 4-0 lead in the third, and to trim down a 4-1 deficit in the fifth. Instead, that 4-1 San Antonio lead turned into the final score.

The win moves San Antonio to the U.S. Championship game to take on the winner of the West and Southeast Region Champs, who face off Thursday.

In the first, Staten Island’s top three batters reached base via the single, leaving the bags juiced for cleanup hitter Anthony Scotti, who had been nursing an injured hamstring for most of the tournament. But a nubber back to the mound induced a 1-2-3 twin killing, and the following batter struck out to end the threat.

With the bases loaded and one down in the third, third baseman Vincent Quinn stepped to the plate and hit the ball to third. Zachary Morrow stepped on the bag and fired to first, turning two for the second time.

Trailing 4-1 in the fifth, Staten Island loaded the bases for a third time with one out. Scotti came up yet again and hit it hard to second base. But San Antonio’s Drew Brooks, the team’s usual shortstop, hit the dirt, stabbed the ball and threw to second. Nicholas Smisek took the ball and flipped to first, and the ball just beat Scotti to the bag.

“I told (Scotti) that he fought through it and helped us on many occasions to get here,” Staten Island manager Michael Zaccariello said about his shortstop, who was 5-for-9 with three RBI entering the game. “That injury just hampered his running. Three double plays—double plays are a rarity in Little League, and they turned three today.”

Pitching and defense was the story for San Antonio.

Starter Steven Cardone went 5.1 innings with five strikeouts and the lone earned run before being pulled due to the pitch-count rule. Drew made a number of dazzling plays on the night, including a diving stop against the first batter in the second inning.

The team’s defense had to endure some changes throughout the tournament. Usual catcher Travis Daves, whose two-run homer the night before had given his team the lead over the West Region Champions, had been playing third base. But because he felt sick on Wednesday, he had to sit out. That forced normal third baseman John Shull to catch.

But it didn’t matter.

“They did an excellent job,” San Antonio manager Mike Shull said. “We do a lot of drills with defense, and I tell them, just go for it, have some fun, challenge yourself, because it pays off. I didn’t realize it would pay off so fast. What Drew and Nick did up the middle—twice we had the bases loaded, no outs, and we turned double plays, and that’s kind of a backbreaker to the other team.”

It was indeed, as the defense held Staten Island, a team that had scored 21 runs in its first three games, to just one. And just when the team needed it, the offense stepped up, too. In its first three games, San Antonio had scored no runs in the first two innings. Out of a total 28 runs scored through pool play, 20 of them had come in the third frame alone.

“It was nice for us to finally score early,” Shull said. “All the pressure was on them to do the catching up.”

As it turned out, Staten Island wasn’t able to play catchup, but Zaccariello said the trip was undoubtedly well worth it.

“I’d like to take two weeks off just to recoup,” he said. “But we’ve got to get back. It’s funny, the guy from Massachusetts left and this morning and he said, ‘It’s time to go back to reality.’”

San Antonio has at least a few more days to live in this world. Williamsport may not be a perfect world, but Smisek and Brooks were able to sum up their thoughts about being one of the two best Little League teams in the U.S. simply:

“Really good. Awesome.”

The U.S. Championship game takes place Saturday at 3 p.m. at Howard J. Lamade Stadium.