SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — California returned the Little League World Series title to the United States with the type of victory even the big leaguers dream about.
Nick Pratto singled in the winning run with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of sixth inning to give the boys from Huntington Beach a 2-1 victory Sunday over Hamamatsu City, Japan, and a championship.
With runners on first and second, an error by Japan’s shortstop on what could have been an inning-ending double play loaded the bases for California. After a force play at the plate, the 12-year-old Pratto smacked a solid liner to center off reliever Kazuto Takakura that brought pinch-runner Eric Anderson home with the winning run.
Pratto tossed his helmet into the air after rounding first before his teammates mobbed him in the infield.
“USA! USA,” yelled fans before Pratto’s single. A U.S. team has now won six out of the last seven World Series, with Japan’s win last year the exception.
The teams exchanged handshakes at the plate before California’s giddy players posed at the mound with their new championship banner.
It was a fitting end to a tense game marked by excellent pitching and timely defense.
Braydon Salzman pitched a complete-game three-hitter for the win, striking out nine. Japan starter Shoto Totsuka struck out five over 4 1-3 innings. Totsuka gave up a homer to right to California slugger Hagen Danner.
First pitch was delayed more than three hours after the outer bands of Hurricane Irene brought more rain than expected to the Williamsport area. The clouds finally started parting midway through the game, and sunshine draped the complex by the time the California players left the stadium to cheers by friends and family.
Neither team could convert on several chances to break open the pitcher’s duel earlier in the game.
With runners on first and second in the top of the sixth, third baseman Dylan Palmer blocked the bag from sliding Japan runner Ken Igeta on a bunt play to help get California get out the inning.
California put runners on first and second with two outs in the fifth, but Takakura got a flyout to end the inning.
Playing right field in the second, Takukara also made a running catch on fly down the line to save an extra-base hit with a runner on second.
In a gracious postgame gesture, Japan’s players and coaches lined up and exchanged high-fives with the California kids after Huntington Beach did the traditional victory lap around the stadium warning track.
It was Japan running all over the place in the top of the second, flashing trademark hustle to scratch out the game’s first run after Seiya Fujita’s solid single to left. Pinch-runner Kaito Suzuki moved to second on a bunt and raced toward third with no one covering. The throw bounced into foul territory, allowing Suzuki to score easily.