BANGOR — Ever since the Senior League World Series arrived in the Queen City in 2002, the champions from Latin America have traditionally featured a lot of offensive power.
On the contrary, this summer’s entry from San Nicholas, Aruba, features speed, strong pitching and fundamentally sound defense.
The Arubans used all those traits to near perfection in Friday’s semifinals, as Ray-Patrick Didder snapped a 2-2 tie with an RBI single in the top of the seventh as manager Greg Manuel’s club advanced to the world championship with a thrilling 3-2 victory over U.S. East representative South Vineland, N.J., at Mansfield Stadium.
Aruba will battle Bangor at noon today at Mansfield.
Chadwick Troup was hit by a Chris Lopez curveball leading off the second, and special pinch runner Jose Luis Gonzalez went from first to third on Richinell Matos’ well-place sacrifice bunt up the third-base line.
With New Jersey’s infield in all the way around, Didder subsequently grounded an 0-1 inside fastball up the middle to score Gonzalez.
Gonzalez was expecting Lopez to pitch him away, but he managed to get his arms extended and rip the ball into center field.
“I was thinking about opposite-field but the ball was a little inside, so instead of trying to go to right field I went up the middle,” Didder said.
There was no doubt how New Jersey’s infield was going to play in that scenario.
“You can’t let that run score in that situation, it’s just, he got a good hit,” said Lopez.
Matos retired New Jersey in order in the home half of the seventh and the Aruba fans, who have been dancing to their native music throughout the tournament, could celebrate a little bit more.
“He did a great job,” Aruba manager Greg Manuel said of Matos, who went 1ª innings in relief to pick up the victory.
Aruba scored a run in the first on Mitchell Matos’ RBI single and got another in the third on a double steal which involved Gonzalez, who was pinch-running for Matos, who drew a one-out walk.
Gonzalez was caught in a rundown between third and the plate and appeared to be a dead duck, but South Vineland pitcher Tevon Potts fanned on the tag and Gonzalez slid in safely to give his team a 2-0 advantage.
“He’s fast, he’s fast, he’s a good baserunner,” Manuel said.
New Jersey manager Abe Heredia figured his team had an easy out in that situation.
“Anytime you make some mental mistakes the way we did in that last inning against a team like that you’re going to come out on the losing end,” Heredia said.
The mistake in the seventh Heredia was referring to was the fact nobody covered third base on Matos’ bunt, which allowed Gonzalez to charge on to third.
South Vineland finally got on the board with two fifth-inning runs on four hits, the only one of which left the infield was Andrew Biggs’ game-tying single to left.
But he was the last New Jersey batter to reach against Matos, who retired the final seven batters and recorded two strikeouts, both in the seventh inning.
“He’s a tough guy, he’s a tough guy,” Manuel said.
Aruba showcased its speed on the bases throughout, as Gonzalez and Jermain Manuel recorded two stolen bases apiece.
“You have to know your team, we know we’re a running team, if you’re a running team, you have to play smallball,” Manuel said.
Those tactics didn’t really affect the South Vineland players any, as their style mirrors Aruba’s.
“I don’t think their style of baseball really affected us or shook us up, we really made some mental mistakes,” Heredia said.
Didder, who played on Aruba’s Junior League squad that lost in that tourney’s world championship in 2009, would like to take the next step this summer.
“I’m going to try to win it this year,” he said.
Martes was Aruba’s lone repeat hitter with two singles while Potts had a couple singles for New Jersey.