Thursday, August 27, 2009
Nick Conlin had barely touched the plate with the winning run when he was surrounded by his teammates from Chula Vista, Calif. Their arms were flapping up and down and their faces had ear-to-ear grins. Then a bunch of the boys fell to the ground in a heap, still smiling as the crowd roared.
Conlin scampered home from third on a wild pitch by reliever Conner Smith to give California an 11-10 win over Warner Robins, Ga., on Thursday night to advance to the U.S. championship game of the Little League World Series.
"When I saw the ball get past, I couldn't believe it," California manager Oscar Castro said.
California will face Texas on Saturday with a berth in the World Series title game at stake.
Little League's final four is now complete. Taiwan beat Curacao 5-2 earlier Thursday to set up the international final.
There was much more drama Thursday night. California rallied from a five-run deficit to tie the game at 10 in the fifth on Andy Rios' two-run homer.
California loaded the bases in the sixth off Smith on two singles and an error to bring up Markus Melin with nobody out.
Smith's 2-1 curve was in the dirt, allowing Conlin to score the winning run about eight minutes before Little League's 11 p.m. curfew.
"Chula Vista! Chula Vista," yelled the California fans as they left Lamade Stadium.
"Coaches tell us if we play all six innings, we should be OK," California's Luke Ramirez said.
Lost in the late drama was Georgia's comeback from an early four-run deficit, getting nine runs in the fourth to take a 10-5 lead. Smith had a two-run homer in the inning and Georgia also scored on an unusual play at home in which two runs scored on a passed ball and an error.
Pitcher Isaiah Armenta hurt his right knee on the play and had to leave the game, though Castro said later the 12-year-old was feeling better. Rios entered in relief and didn't allow a run over the final two-plus innings for the win.
Georgia was eliminated. It was the first loss all year for the all-star team that came from the same Warner Robins league that won the 2007 title.
"I don't know how they're going to deal with it because they've never dealt with it before," Georgia manager Randy Jones said. "But once I see that first pillow fight, I know they're all right, and I can't wait to see that first pillow fight."