When Eastlake Little League’s 12-under all-star team takes the field at Lamade Stadium for Wednesday’s winners bracket semifinal game in the 2013 Little League World Series, the West region champions will be one of just three teams remaining on the U.S. side of the bracket with a chance to advance to the LLWS championship game.
The Chula Vista team will face New England region champion Westport (Conn.) in Wednesday’s high profile match-up, with the winner earning a berth in Saturday’s U.S. championship game.
The loser drops to Thursday’s consolation bracket final, with the winner of that game advancing to the U.S. title contest against either Eastlake or Westport.
So far, Eastlake has continued to find a way.
The Southern California state champions battered Mid-Atlantic region champion Newark (Del.), 15-3, in Sunday’s winners bracket second-round game to improve to 2-0 in LLWS play.
The nationally televised game on ESPN ended in the bottom of the fourth inning due to the mercy rule when Grant Holman slugged a grand slam home run.
The win upped Eastlake’s amazing all-star tournament run to 20-1.
Mexico champion Tijuana also won its second-round game, 13-0, over Caribbean region champion Panama on Sunday to secure a berth in Wednesday's International winners bracket semifinal.
Just two victories by each team now separate them from meeting one another in the LLWS championship game.
Could the teams, separated by just 13 miles, be on a collision course to make LLWS history? Well, there's a lot of baseball still to be played, starting on Wednesday.
Both of Wednesday's winners bracket semifinals will be telecast on ESPN, with Tijuana taking the field at 1 p.m. PDT and Eastlake playing at 5 p.m. PDT.
"The bats came alive as I figured they would," Eastlake manager Rick Tibbett said by phone from Williamsport. Pa. "We had been practicing hard in the cages here and by what I saw in the cages I figured that would carry over into the game.
"Of course, we have to win on Wednesday and that would put us in the U.S. championship game. That's where we want to be."
Nick Mora started on the mound for Eastlake in Sunday's winners bracket game against Newark. He gave up two runs in the first inning on a double to the wall by catcher Jack Hardcastle.
But Mora settled into a groove after that, allowing just one more hit while striking out six batters to pick up the victory in a run-rule contest decided by the West region champions' power hitting.
Eastlake slammed four home runs in the game, starting with Jake Espinoza's two-run blast in the bottom of the first inning to tie the game early at two runs apiece.
Micah Pietila-Wiggs followed with a tape-measure three-run home run in the bottom of the second inning to increase Eastlake's lead to 5-2 and Michael Gaines sent a solo shot over the fence in the bottom of the third inning for a 6-2 advantage for the Chula Vistans.
Pietila-Wiggs had a big showing at the plate with two hits and four RBI. He also drove in another run on a ball hit to deep center field in the third inning for a run-scoring sacrifice fly.
Gaines finished the game with three RBI. He also drove in two runs on a single past the drawn-in infield in the fourth inning to make the score 9-3.
Two more Eastlake runners crossed the plate on wild pitches.
The District 42 champions finished the shortened game with 10 hits. Eastlake scored in every inning, batting around in their final at-bat.
The game started ominously for Eastlake after the Delaware state champions scored two early runs. Starting pitcher Nathan Hardcastle beat out an infield single and teammate Joey Davis followed with a liner off the glove of left fielder Kevin Bateman to place two runners on base with one out.
After Mora came back with a strikeout to get two outs, Hardcastle's younger brother then drove a ball that bounced off the right field fence to score two runs. A liner to third baseman Rennard Williams finally ended the inning.
From the events that transpired in the bottom of the first inning, it looked like it would be a hitters day at the ball park.
Lead-off batter Pietila-Wiggs was safe on an infield single and Espinoza followed with a home run to tie the game with none down in Eastlake's half of the frame.
Nathan Hardcastle then appeared to settle down somewhat and the 6-foot-1, 154-pounder looked like he might settle into a groove for the rest of the game.
But Hardcastle soon began to focus on his landing position on the mound after each pitch and that seemed to change the game's momentum. A grounds crew came out to manicure the mound for a lengthy delay early in the contest.
Mora, however, didn't appear to have a problem with his pitching mechanics. He walked one batter in the second inning and struck out two batters in each of the third and fourth innings.
Nathan Hardcastle, meanwhile, struggled with his pitch count, leaving the hill after throwing 31 pitches in each of the first two innings he worked.
Catcher Patrick Archer led off Eastlake half of the second inning with a double off the wall. Teammate Dominic Haley followed with a walk before Pietila-Wiggs put the wood to a pitch that subsequently traveled an estimated 300 feet.
Gaines blasted the first offering served him in the next inning to triple the West region champions' lead.
Archer then reached base on an errant throw and Charly Peterson drove hard bouncer off the leg of relief pitcher Jared Owens to place runners at the corners with one down. At first it appeared that Pietila-Wiggs might grab his second homer of the game but the ball dipped just a couple of feet short of the wall for a Delaware put-out.
Mora reached base on a pop single in the fourth inning and moved to third base on ensuing walks issued to Giancarlo Cortez and Ricky Tibbett. Gaines's second hit of the game scored two runs and drove Owens from the pitching mound.
Reliever David Hawtof didn't fare much better against Eastlake's heavy lumber company.
Archer and Peterson both drew walks as two errant pitches sailed wide to move runners up on the basepaths (scoring two runs in the process).
Archer then got caught between third base and home plate on a sharply hit ball by Pietila-Wiggs to the Delaware third baseman. However, the Eastlake catcher stayed alive long enough for the other base runners to safely move up.
Espinoza then followed with a walk to load the bases for Holman, the team's hero on Friday after throwing a no-hitter in a dramatic seven-inning 3-0 win by Eastlake.
Holman promptly made amends for a poor plate performance to that point in the game (three strikeouts) by yanking a pitch sent his way out of the park. He got all of the ball and watched it sail over the fence as he left the batters box.
The game ended due to the 10-run rule with Holman's grand slam. Ironically. Holman had struck out for the first out in that final frame.
Newark will play Southeast region champion Nashville (Tenn.) in Monday's elimination game while the other Eastake team from Sammamish, Wash., will meet Midwest region champion Urbandale (Iowa) in the other U.S. bracket elimination game.
Urbandale advanced by virtue of Saturday's 6-5 consolation round victory against Great Lakes region champion Grosse Point Woods-Shores.
Nashville topped Southwest region champion Corpus Christi (Texas), 10-2, also in a consolation bracket game on Saturday.
Grosse Point Woods-Shores and star hurler Chad Lorkowski will now exit the tournament by playing in a special consolation game on Tuesday against European/African region champion Brno from the Czech Republic.
Corpus Christi will take on Australian champion Perth in another special consolation game on Monday before departing Williamsport.
For those scouting Wednesday's game, Westport advanced after holding off the Washington state champions, 9-7, in an earlier game on Sunday. Westport built a 9-3 lead in the game before the Northwest region champions rallied with four runs in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Harry Azadian hat three hits and drove in five runs for the New England region champions while also notching four strikeouts in three innings on the mound.
Tijuana improved to 2-0 in LLWS play after clubbing Panama, 13-0, on Sunday. The Mexico region champions rocked Panama pitching for five home runs in the game. The Tijuana team has now outscored its first two LLWS opponents 25-0 on the scoreboard.
Ramon Mendoza led the Mexican champs with six RBI. Brandon Meza and Brandon Montes each drove in three runs apiece to highlight the team's 12-0 opening game victory against Australia. Meza also had eight strikeouts on the mound in the LLWS opener.