The boys from Eastlake Little League continue to live by their motto: “Find A Way.”
The District 42 champions found a way to win their latest game — Wednesday’s winners bracket semifinal against previously unbeaten Westport (Conn.) — to advance to Saturday’s United States bracket championship game.
Grant Holman, who toyed earlier with a no-hitter before giving up a three-run home run to put the New England region champions in front by a score of 3-1, made amends by slamming a three-run home run in the top of the ninth inning to give the West region champions a dumb-founding 6-3 victory.
Eastlake will play the winner of Thursday’s losers bracket final — either Westport or Northwest region champion Sammamish (Wash.) — in Saturday’s U.S. final.â€¨â€¨Westport entered Wednesday's game with an unblemished 20-0 record and was two outs away from adding to that prodigious winning streak before Eastlake clawed back to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Eastlake drew to within one run, 3-2, on Nick Mora's second home run of the game with one out in the frame; Michael Gaines later scored on a passed ball after the West champs had loaded the bases via three consecutive walks.
The teams battled through three harrowing extra innings before Eastlake finally produced the win.
With one down, Micah Pietila-Wiggs hit safely to reach base for the fourth time in the game. Jake Espinoza followed by driving a double off the fence. Holman came up next after going hitless in four earlier trips to the plate. He was overdue and promptly crunched a pitch over the wall to send his teammates into a frenzy.
Eastlake closed out the dramatic victory on a game-ending double play in the bottom of the ninth.
The California Section 7 champions used four pitchers in the game.
Eastlake is now the lone remaining undefeated team in the U.S. bracket, improving to 21-1 in all-star tournament play.
Mexico champion Tijuana will battle the Latin American champion in Thursday's International bracket challenger game, with the winner advancing to Saturday's International bracket championship contest against Japan.
Japan defeated Tijuana, 5-2, earlier on Wednesday in another winners bracket semifinal.
Saturday's U.S. bracket championship game will be telecast on ABC-TV, starting at 12:30 p.m. PDT.
The International bracket championship game also will be televised by ABC-TV, starting earlier in the day at 9:30 a.m. PDT.
Saturday's winning teams advance to the LLWS championship game on Sunday, starting at noon PDT on ABC-TV.
The losing teams on Saturday advance to Sunday's third-place game, which will be televised on ESPN, starting at 8 a.m. PDT.
Holman, who entered Wednesday's game riding the momentum of throwing a no-hitter (with 13 strikeouts) in last Friday's opening game and then following that up with a walk-off grand slam home run in Sunday's second game, struck out the first six Westport batters he faced.
When teammate Nick Mora hit a solo home run in the top of the fourth inning, at that point in the game, it looked like that might be all Holman — and Eastlake — needed to secure a coveted berth in the U.S. final.
But things unraveled for the first time for Holman -- and Eastlake -- in the bottom of the fourth inning as the 6-4 hurler (measured with cleats on) issued a walk and two hits sandwiched around his 10th strikeout in the game. The second hit off Holman proved devastating — a three-run blast by M. Brown to put the New Englanders up 3-1.
Holman exited the game to maintain his pitching status for ensuing contests in the week. Giancarlo Cortez, who pitched out of a bases-loaded situation, followed him on the mound, as did Ricky Tibbett and Rennard Williams to close out the game.
With both teams seeking to save their top hurlers for upcoming key contests, Wednesday's game turned into a battle of pitching depth. Eastlake won that battle.
Westport also used four pitchers in the game.
The game attracted more than 21,000 fans.
Regardless of how it ends for this high-achieving Eastlake team, this second group of Chula Vistans to play in the LLWS will have left its mark in Williamsport.
Eastlake is guaranteed of either a first- or second-place finish among U.S. teams and a first- through fourth-place finish in the world.
Eastlake to draw rematch against Westport
Eastlake will draw a rematch against New England champion Westport after the Connecticut state champions edged Northwest region champion Sammamish (Wash.), 14-13, in an elimination game on Friday.
Chad Knight drove in Christopher Drbal with the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning on a 2-2 count with two outs to produce the dramatic game-winning play.
The game was an offensive tour-de-force with 30 hits between the teams — 16 by the losing Washington team, also from Eastlake Little League.
Westport, which lost to the West region champions, 6-3, in a nine-inning thriller on Wednesday, sent the game into extra inning on the strength of a seven-run fifth inning rally.
Sammamish had taken a seemingly comfortable 12-5 lead by pouring across 10 runs in the top of the fourth inning.
Alex Reiner drove in three runs for the New England region champions while teammate Ricky Offenberg, who paced the winners with three hits in the game, collected two RBI.
Jack Carper had three hits for the Northwest region champs in the loss.
Harry Azadian pitched three-and-two-thirds innings for Westport , striking out five hitters. Teammate Max Popken fanned five Sammamish batters in two-and-two-thirds or work on the mound.
Azadian fired 14 first-pitch strikes.
Dalton Chandler struck out a game-high eight hitters in four-plus innings for the Northwest region champions.
The game was originally scheduled to be played on Thursday but inclement weather forced a one-day postponement.
Tijuana eliminated Panama, 4-2, in a game that featured five lead changes on Thursday to advance to Saturday's International championshp game against Japan. Jorge Romero won it for the Mexico region champions with a two-run home run in the top of the seventh inning. Brandon Meza struck out six batters in four innings on the hill.
Lightning caused a delay in the Mexico-Panama game.