Little League World Series

Game 5: Canada 4 vs. Latin America 2

O, Canada!

Vancouver, British Columbia survives late scare from Chitre, Panama in first-round 4-2 win

Author: Mark Price

Source: South Williamsport, Pa.

Date/Time: Saturday, August 21, 2010, 1:00pm ET

When a team has traveled thousands of miles to participate in a tournament against the world’s best competition, a manager might urge his players to stop goofing around and focus solely on the task at hand.  At the Little League World Series on Saturday, Canada employed a completely different strategy and, in the end, had more fun and scored more runs than their counterparts from Panama.

Despite Panama’s power pitching and hitting, Canada emerged victorious over the Latin America All-Stars, 4-2.  In an intense matchup from beginning to end, the deciding factor might have been what was going on between the player’s ears instead of between the chalk lines.

“They were very nervous in their first game,” said Panama manager Cristobal Salerno.  “When we played the championship game in the Latin American regional to come to Williamsport, we played in front of 200 to 250 people.”

In contrast, 6,400 fans surrounded the diamond at Volunteer Stadium today.  Salerno believed the drastic change in environment negatively affected his team.

“I asked the players before the game,” said Salerno.  “Some of them did admit it.”

Though Salerno tried to calm his player’s nerves, the Canadian team seemed to overcome the atmosphere by singing, dancing, and performing other rituals.  The coaches came out onto the field in crazy red pants before the game and led a dance and chant for the players.

“We try to take it away and let these kids have some fun,” said Canada Coach Frank Soper, Lucas’s dad.

Furthermore, the kids have been trained to have fun no matter what the circumstance.

“If the kids smile every at-bat, (manager Pat) Chaba has to take a stinky sock to the face,” said coach Soper.  Infielder William Quito proceeded to unveil the stinky socks in the middle of the post-game press conference and bury them in his manager’s face.

Canada cracked the scoreboard in the top of the second. After singling up the middle to lead off the inning, Quito broke for second as Garcia’s pitch hit the dirt in front of the plate.

Catcher Arnulfo Quintero picked the ball up and fired it down to second, but the ball deflected off Quito’s body into left field.  Left fielder Jorge Perez was playing near the warning track, giving Quito enough time to round third and come all the way home, sliding under Quintero’s legs for the game’s first run.

Quito continued to power the offense in the third inning with a two-run single up the middle, extending Canada’s lead to 3-0.

Panama immediately responded in the bottom of the inning when No. 9 hitter Francisco Gonzalez lined a home run to center field to register the team’s first run of the Series.

“That was a nice trick there they did there, putting that guy in the nine-hole,” coach Soper said with a smirk.

The two teams traded runs in the fifth to bring the score to 4-2.  Soper went from second to home on a passed ball for Canada, while Panama pinch-hitter Sebastian Corrizo slammed an RBI double to left.

Panama would not go away easily in the sixth, testing shortstop Lichel Hirakawa-Kao with a slow roller and two ground balls deep in the hole to his right.  Hirakawa-Kao played stellar defense throughout the game but was unable to record an out on any of the plays.

Meanwhile, Soper was approaching the 85-pitch limit that would force him off the mound.  With 79 pitches thrown, one out, and the bases loaded, Soper struck out Quintero in five pitches, giving the pitcher one more batter to work with.

Soper quickly induced a ground ball between first and second that Quito, now at second base, pounced on for the final out.

With as many close games as Canada has endured to make it to this point, coach Frank Soper, Lucas’s dad, was not nervous in the final inning.

“I was completely confident,” he said.

This attitude strongly contrasts the attitude felt by the Panama players throughout the game.

 “I expect a lot more of us,” said Salerno.  “We didn’t play our real game.  We didn’t get the right hits, didn’t get the breaks.”

Salerno said he has good pitching left and expects better results tomorrow.

The Latin America pitchers recorded 11 strikeouts, including 10 from starter Javier Garcia, while Canada’s Lucas Soper recorded only two in six innings.  Furthermore, Panama’s bats were responsible for the game’s only two extra-base hits.