Monday, August 29, 2011

Little League World Series: California takes title with walk-off win

California returned the Little League World Series title to the United States with the type of victory even major leaguers dream about.

Nick Pratto singled in the winning run with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of sixth inning to give

the boys from Huntington Beach a 2-1 victory Sunday over Hamamatsu City, Japan, and a championship.

With runners on first and second, an error by the shortstop on what could have been an inning-ending double play loaded the bases for California. After a force at the plate, the 12-year-old Pratto smacked a solid liner to center off reliever Kazuto Takakura that scored pinch-runner Eric Anderson with the winning run.

Pratto tossed his helmet into the air after rounding first before his teammates mobbed him in the infield.

"USA! USA," yelled fans before Pratto's single. A U.S. team has won six of the past seven World Series, with Japan's win last year the exception.

The teams exchanged handshakes at the plate before California's players posed at the mound with their new championship banner.

It was a fitting end to a tense game marked by excellent pitching and timely defense.

Braydon Salzman pitched a three-hitter for the win, striking out nine. Japan starter Shoto Totsuka struck out five over 4 1/3 innings. Totsuka gave up a homer to rightfield to Hagen Danner.

The first pitch was delayed more than 3 hours after the outer bands of Hurricane Irene brought more rain than expected to the Williamsport area. The clouds finally started parting midway through the game, and sunshine draped the complex by the time the California players left the stadium to cheers by friends and family.

Neither team could convert on several chances to break open the pitcher's duel earlier in the game.

With runners on first and second in the top of the sixth, third baseman Dylan Palmer blocked the bag from a sliding runner Ken Igeta on a bunt play to help California escape the inning.

California put runners on first and second with two outs in the fifth, but Takakura got a flyout to end the inning.

Playing rightfield in the second, Takakura also made a running catch on a fly down the line to save an extra-base hit with a runner on second.

In a gracious postgame gesture, Japan's players and coaches lined up and exchanged high-fives with the California kids after Huntington Beach did the traditional victory lap around the warning track.

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