BANGOR, Maine — Baseball has little tradition in Guatemala, but one group of 15- and 16-year-olds from that Central American nation’s capital city took a major step toward changing that Saturday by winning the Senior League World Series.
With a small but vocal contingent of fans on hand at Mansfield Stadium and thousands watching on television back home in Guatemala City, the Juvenil de Guatemala Little League all-stars defeated Lemon Grove, Calif., 6-3 in the world championship game at Mansfield Stadium.
“This is the biggest thing Guatemala has ever achieved in any sport,” said Guatemala manager Angel Hoyos. “We’re just very happy to make it to this level and be able to win at this level. These guys have put in a lot of work to get here, and they deserve it.”
And the reward for the team’s players and coaches likely will be far more than the championship banner and plaque they received after completing their undefeated run through the 10-team tournament.
“I think that there will be a lot of parties because of us,” said second baseman Julio Alvarado. “A lot of friends have asked us how it’s going over here, and there was even a big-screen TV at one of the famous hotels so people who couldn’t watch the game at home could go and watch.
“So I think there will be a lot of parties.”
A parade also is in the works for the Lemon Grove team, which battled through several qualifying tournaments before winning the U.S. West championship and with that its cross-continental trip to the Queen City.
“It was a great run,” said Lemon Grove manager Andre Simpson. “I just gave every kid a hug and a kiss on the cheek after the game and told them I love them, because we’re never doing this again.
“They’re hurt right now because they all started together from T-ball up and this is the last time they’re going to play together.”
Guatemala relied on the same combination of pitching and defense that had yielded just nine runs in its previous 10 games to become the fourth different Latin American country to win the SLWS title since it was moved to Bangor in 2002 — joining Curacao (2002), Venezuela (2006) and Aruba (2010).
Righthander Alejandro Amezquita earned the pitching win, getting double-play help in each of the first two innings before settling down to hold Lemon Grove to one run on three hits before leaving the game in the sixth.
“I had to adjust my mechanics, but the biggest thing was concentration,” he said. “I started to lose concentration but finally I collected my thoughts, got my concentration down and kept going.”
Amezquita and relievers Fernando Valls and Hans Werner were backed by errorless defense that featured two diving catches by left fielder Carlos Esteves and slick-fielding shortstop Fabian Vizcaino.
Guatemala managed just seven hits but capitalized on nine walks issued by Lemon Grove pitchers to apply consistent offensive pressure.
Amezquita escaped a two on, one-out jam in the bottom of the first by inducing DeAndre Simpson to hit a sharp grounder that Valls at third base turned into an inning-ending 5-3 double play.
Lemon Grove did take a 1-0 lead an inning later. Frankie Nunez drew a one-out walk and Derrick Clark doubled to right-center before Brandon Weed was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Dominik Sawyer singled up the middle to drive home Nunez, but that was it for Lemon Grove as Brad Moreno flied out and when Werner’s throw in from right field went wide of the plate, Clark was caught in a rundown between third base and home and was tagged out.
“Double plays are your best friend in baseball,” said Vizcaino.
That lost opportunity proved costly for the Californians, as Guatemala immediately countered with a three-run rally in the top of the third.
“We didn’t take advantage of the opportunities they gave us,” said Lemon Grove coach Frank Nunez, “and they took advantage of the opportunities we gave them. Before the game we told the kids we needed to play perfect baseball to win this game and we didn’t play perfect baseball.
Esteves drew a leadoff walk in the Guatemala third and went to second on a single to right by Vizcaino. Juan Diego Montes singled down the right-field line to drive home Esteves with the tying run, then Alvarado followed a walk to Valls with a ground single to left that drove home Vizcaino and Montes to give the Latin American champs a 3-1 lead.
“When I fell down in the count one ball and two strikes, I just imagined what he would throw to me, the curveball or the fastball,” said Alvarado. “His curveball was faster than his fastball, so I just had to be quick with my hands on the swing and just make contact.”
But while Amezquita settled down and maintained a low pitch count, Simpson’s 36-pitch third inning led to him having to leave the mound with two outs in the fifth when he reached the 95-pitch limit, and Guatemala broke the game open against reliever Brad Moreno in the sixth.
Alvarado’s speed produced the first run as he singled to center, went to second on a slow chopper by Guillermo Saenz, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a passed ball.
Two walks around a single to left by Werner then loaded the bases before back-to-back walks to Gabriel Montenegro and Vizcaino forced home two more runs to make it a 6-1 game.
Amezquita was taken out of the game after yielding a leadoff single to Ray Peterson in the bottom of the sixth having thrown just 62 pitches. Simpson then drew a walk off Valls and Nunez drove both runners home by pulling a two-run double down the right-field line to cut the deficit to 6-3.