BANGOR, Maine — John Williamson didn’t get upset when Houston, Texas, manager Trey Cornelius pulled him after he had allowed no runs and one hit in 4ª innings of work.
The hard-throwing lefthander has amassed 60 pitches, and Cornelius wanted to save his ace for the duration of the tourney and leave the fate of Monday’s Pool B matchup with Europe-Middle East-Africa representative Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy, to the bullpen and Houston’s offense.
Both were stout in the late innings, as the U.S. Southwest champs pushed across five fifth-inning runs and closer Kevin Roy worked out of a first-and-second, no-out jam in the seventh en route to a 6-3 victory at Mansfield Stadium.
Houston won its tourney opener while Italy dropped to 0-2 in pool play.
Williamson, who earned the victory, was staked to a 1-0 lead before he even threw a pitch, thanks to two walks, a hit batter and a sacrifice fly to right by Ryan Farney.
But that’s all Texas could muster against Italian lefthander Carlos Avancini, who held the Lone Star State batters in check for the next three innings.
“That’s what we’ve been doing the whole summer, we usually start out the first few innings pretty slow and we haven’t been hitting lefties good,” said Williamson, who struck out seven on his outing.
Williamson didn’t use a wide array of pitches after scouting the Italian batters Sunday night.
“I saw a little weakness in trying to hit a fastball, so I just tried to get ahead in the count with the fastball and just work a couple breaking balls in,” he said.
Houston finally broke through offensively in the sixth, sending nine men to the plate while pushing across five runs, with the big blows coming in the form of a two-run triple from Matt Luna and an RBI triple by Cole Lankford.
Turns out they’d need all that offense, as the scrappy Italians came back with three in the bottom of the frame, while back-to-back walks from Texas reliever Stewart Cartwright, who replaced Williamson in the fifth, opened the seventh and put the tying run at the plate.
But Roy came in and struck out Marco Gheno on three pitches and Federico Ugrin bounced into a double play to end it.
“He’s been our best relief pitcher for the 15 games we’ve played, he always comes in and throws strikes,” Williamson said.
Uncharacteristic mistakes in its tournament debut plagued Houston, but they were able to overcome them just fine.
“I guess we had a little bit of first-game jitters, I’m glad we got that out of the way and still got a W,” said Cornelius.
Andrea Berini and Giacomo Nunin singled and scored for Italy in the sixth while Ugrin drove in a run with a fielder’s choice grounder.