BANGOR — The Manhattan Beach, Calif., All-Stars team entered Thursday’s final day of pool play at the Senior League World Series knowing they didn’t need to defeat Holmes County, Ohio, just not get beat by a lopsided margin.
But having resolved that by taking the game into extra innings, the unbeaten Mustangs went out and won anyway, scoring four runs in the top of the ninth for a 6-3 victory.
The win was the 19th straight overall for the U.S. West champions, 4-0 in Pool B play at the SLWS.
Manhattan Beach now will play the winner of Thursday’s battle for second place in Pool A between Bangor and defending SLWS champion West University Little League of Houston, Texas, in Friday’s 2:30 p.m. semifinal.
“It’s harder to go into a game like that coming off a loss because I don’t know how the kids are going to rebound,” said Manhattan Beach manager Carlos Rojas. “It’s a lot easier to come off a win than it is off a loss. That was the main drive behind us wanting to win this game.”
San Nicolas, Aruba, earned the second seed from Pool B and will play Pool A champion South Vineland, N.J., at 11:30 a.m. Friday.
Holmes County, whose only chance to advance was to defeat Manhattan Beach by a wide margin to force a three-way tie with Manhattan Beach and Aruba and then hopefully qualify via tiebreaker, ends pool play at 2-2.
“When you need to beat a California team by 15 or a gazillion runs, that’s not an easy thing to do, especially with them playing for the No. 1 seed,” said Holmes County manager Mike Yoder. We knew they were coming after us, but I’m proud of the kids that we came after them, too.”
Morgan Ascher, the third Manhattan Beach pitcher of the day, earned the win against Ohio, with 4¤ innings of two-hit, one-run relief.
The righthander came on to get his team out of a two-out, two on jam in the fifth after Ohio had tied the game and retired 10 of the first 11 batters he faced — including a run of five straight strikeouts at one point — to maintain the stalemate until Manhattan Beach’s offense erupted in the top of the ninth.
“My two-seam fastball was really working for me,” said Ascher. “My curves and splitters weren’t floating into the strike zone like they normally do but the two-seamer was working well.”
Manhattan Beach had mustered just one hit off Holmes County reliever Luke Burch over the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, but a leadoff single by Turner Conrad got the Mustangs going in the ninth.
Austin Henning then was hit by a pitch before Ascher used his bat to help his team, dropping a bunt toward third base for an infield hit that loaded the bases with no one out.
“I knew if the situation came up I was going to be asked to bunt by [assistant] coach Aaron Medina because that’s his style,” said Ascher, who had struck out in his only previous plate appearance. “He called a drag instead of a sacrifice, so I thought either get it fair or foul along the line and I got it fair and somehow I was able to beat out the throw.”
Bret Collins then grounded a 3-1 pitch up the middle through a drawn-in infield for a single that drove home Conrad with the go-ahead run.
“I knew the infield was in, so I just took a deep breath and tried not to do to much with it,” said Collins. “I just tried to put the ball in play and good things will happen.”
Ian McLoughlin added a sacrifice fly and Anthony Lombardo followed with an RBI single to stretch the margin to 6-2.
“We knew coming in they were good,” said Yoder. “We watched them play all three games. They’re very fundamentally sound, they’re very tough. You don’t beat an Aruba team like they did by not being fundamentally strong.”
Manhattan Beach finished with 13 hits, including three from Collins and two each from McLoughlin, Lombardo and Conrad.
Burch sparked Ohio’s seven-hit attack with three singles.
Manhattan Beach had seven hits in the first four innings while moving out to a 2-0 lead on an RBI single by Trent Hammond in the third inning and a double by Ryan Erickson and run-scoring single by McLoughlin in the fourth.
But Ohio used an RBI infield single by Richie Mast to draw within 2-1 in the bottom of the fourth, then tied the game an inning later on a double by Ryan Troyer, a wild pitch and an infield groundout by Burch.
U.S. West (4-0) 001 100 004 — 6 13 0
U.S. Central (2-2) 000 110 001 — 3 7 1
Conrad, Lipps (5), Ascher (5) and McLoughlin; B. Schlabach, Burch (6) and Bunch; WP-Ascher (1-0); LP-Burch (0-2); Repeat hitters: Collins 3 (W), Conrad (W), McLoughlin (W), Lombardo (W); Burch 3 (C); Extra-base hits: 2B: Conrad (W), Erickson (W); R. Troyer (C)