Little League World Series

Game 26: Southwest 7 vs. Northwest 5

Snuffing Cinderella

Late surge powers Pearland, Texas, over Auburn, Wash., 7-5

Author: Mark Price

Source: South Williamsport, Pa.

Date/Time: Thursday, August 26, 2010, 4:00pm ET

Since the first day of this year’s Little League World Series, the All-Stars from Pearland, Texas, had been known for their first-inning fireworks. After coming from behind in the final inning Thursday against Washington in the Pool B final, the Southwest champs will be better remembered for their late-inning heroics in South Williamsport.

Texas scored four runs in the sixth inning to erase a 5-3 deficit and advance to the U.S. Championship Saturday afternoon. Meanwhile, Washington was unable to complete their Cinderella run after losing the first game of the Series. Texas will play the winner of Pool A, either Columbus, Ga., or Waipahu, Hawaii. This marks the second consecutive year a Texas team will play for the U.S. title, the fourth time in seven years.

With three outs to make up a two-run difference, Texas finally broke through. Blake Toler had a run-scoring single, and after advancing to third on two wild pitches, made his way home on a Jorge Gutierrez groundout to tie the game.

Mason Van Noort then fouled off four pitches with two strikes, worked his way to a full count, and finally sent the tenth pitch of his at-bat over the left-center field wall to give Texas the 6-5 lead.

“I was just trying to get the ball in play,” said Van Noort. “But I ended up getting around on it.”

Texas would plate an insurance run after two Washington errors pushed Jake Orlando around the bases and the score to 7-5.

The bottom half of the inning saw an equally impressive display from the Southwest All-Stars. After the first two batters reached base, shortstop Beau Orlando fielded a ball deep in the hole and fired it to third for the first out.

With runners still on first and second, Chandler Michalek dropped a Texas-leaguer in front of center fielder Matthew Bettencourt. The runner at second, Hudson Byorick, stayed close to the bag trying to determine whether the ball would drop in. To his dismay, Bettencourt picked up the ball and fired it to third for the force out.

“I looked up and I see that he’s still there,” said Bettencourt. “I just tried to make a throw right on line, and it worked.”

With the momentum completely on his side, Van Noort finished what he started, firing his 85th pitch of the game past Dylan Davis for the final out of the game.

Van Noort put in an epic performance for the Texas squad. After allowing four runs and using 30 pitches in the first inning, Van Noort allowed only one run while efficiently spreading 55 pitches over the course of the final five innings.

“I’ve taken a lot of gambles this tournament,” said Texas Manager Mike Orlando. “I think it was time to play it by the textbook.”

Before yesterday’s matchup with Washington, no Texas pitcher had thrown more than 35 pitches in a game. Last night, manager Orlando pulled both Beau Orlando and Jorge Gutierrez after 50 pitches, making them both available for the weekend’s championship rounds.

With his ace on the mound and elimination staring him in the face Thursday, Orlando decided to keep the bullpen dormant.

“I had no thoughts of taking him out this time,” he said.

Texas failed to score in the first inning for the first time in the Little League World Series, as Washington starter Casey Manning stranded three Texas baserunners.

Washington scored its first four batters of the game to jump out to an early 4-0 lead. The Northwest offense continued its baserunning frenzy from Wednesday’s game with the Southwest, confusing the Texas defense merely by standing in between first and second base with another runner on third. Whether after a single or as a delayed steal attempt, Washington worked this maneuver three times, either scoring a run or putting another runner in scoring position each time.

Two Texas replacements broke the offensive silence in the top of the fourth. Jaron Roblyer sent a solo shot to left field and Chris Leger singled and scored on a wild pitch to cut the lead to 4-2.

“I was trying to get something started because we were all down,” said Roblyer of his home run. “I finally got my chance and I just felt like getting something started.”

Washington Manager Kai Nahaku predicted it would take about 20 minutes for his players’ grief over the game to turn to happiness at the memories they’ve made together this summer.

“It’s been an unbelievable experience,” said Nahaku.