BANGOR, Maine — Arguably one of the more competitive Senior League World Series in its current 11-year run at Mansfield Stadium concluded Saturday with a championship game in which the decisive moments came during its early stages.
And when Lemon Grove, Calif., extracted barely the minimum out of a bases-loaded, one-out threat in the bottom of the second inning while the Juvenil de Guatemala Little League of Guatemala City, Guatemala, made the most of a threat a half-inning later, the Latin America champions were on their way to a 6-3 victory and the world title.
Lemon Grove actually had two runners aboard with one out in the first, only to have cleanup hitter Deandre Simpson line out to third base for a double play.
An inning later, the U.S. West champions loaded the bases with one out but were able to manage just one run before a baserunning misjudgement ran Lemon Grove into a second straight inning-ending double play.
“Double plays are your best friend in baseball, so we were very fortunate,” said Fabian Vizcaino. “I was very confident in our defense that we could get out of those innings without too much damage, because that’s what we work on.”
In the latter case, Brad Moreno flied to shallow right field for the second out, with Lemon Grove baserunner Derrick Clark holding at third base. But when Hans Werner’s throw sailed wide to the third-base side of the plate toward the backstop, Clark took off for home.
But Latin America pitcher Alejandro Amezquita and catcher Pablo Custodio both hustled after the loose ball while first baseman Juan Diego Montes covered the plate.
Amezquita got to the ball first and fired it to Montes, leaving Clark stuck between home and third base. Montes chased Clark up the line, then tossed the ball to third baseman Fernando Valls, who applied the inning-ending tag.
“In a situation like that, we had a young kid make a mistake,” said Lemon Grove coach Frank Nunez. “He tried to make too much happen and we were out of the inning.”
That play became magnified when Guatemala City took a 3-1 lead with three runs in the top of the third, an inning in which Simpson — the Lemon Grove starter whose fastball was clocked at 86 miles per hour — walked two batters and threw 36 pitches.
“I don’t like blaming games on umpires, we lost it ourselves, but there were some bad calls,” said Lemon Grove manager Andre Simpson, who felt his son’s strike zone was being squeezed. “I always say you can’t take the ball out of the kids’ hands, but in that one inning it was just killing us with the pitching.
“But it’s our fault. I don’t blame the umpire, we just didn’t hit, we didn’t show up and we took it for granted.”
Lemon Grove didn’t threaten again until after Guatemala City added three more runs in the top of the sixth, an uprising fueled by four walks — two with the bases loaded.
“You have to hand it to them,” said Nunez. “You give them an inch and they take a mile.”
While a high early pitch count resulted in Lemon Grove starter Simpson leaving the mound with two out in the fifth inning of Saturday’s SLWS final after reaching the 95-pitch limit, Guatemala City starter Alejandro Amezquita had plenty of pitches left when he was pulled in the bottom of the sixth.
The righthander had retired 10 of the previous 11 batters he faced before Lemon Grove’s Ray Peterson reached him for a leadoff single in the sixth on just his 62nd pitch of the game.
But that was enough for manager Angel Hoyos, who immediately went out to the mound and replaced Amezquita with reliever Valls.
Valls walked the first batter he faced and later allowed a two-run double by Frankie Nunez that narrowed Guatemala City’s lead to 6-3, but Valls and Werner combined to retire five of the next six batters to secure the victory.
“We already had a pitching schedule planned out,” said Hoyos. “He only threw 62, but we thought he had already done his job.”
For his part, Amezquita was surprised but diplomatic at the early hook, content with the fact he helped his team win a world championship.
“I was very surprised because I thought I had way more [pitches] than that,” he said. “I didn’t know how many pitches I had, and when I saw I had just 62 I was very surprised.”
The BBCOR-standard bats used at the Senior League World Series for the first time this year had a significant effect on the power game, with Juan Diego Montes of tournament champion Guatemala City, Guatemala, the only player to clear the Mansfield Stadium fences during the 23 games played.
Montes hit his home run during the fourth inning of his team’s first game of pool play, a 10-0 victory over Canadian champion Notre-Dame-de-Grace Little League of Montreal, Quebec.
Despite the effect of the new bat, which was a safety move designed to reduce the speed of the ball after impact, the tournament still had its share of offensive heroes.
Julio Alvarado, an infielder from Guatemala City, had the top batting average at .545 on a 6-of-11 performance at the plate, edging Lemon Grove, Calif., designated hitter Ray Peterson (.533).
Matt Palmer of Maine District 3 champion Hampden ranked fifth in batting average at .444, his 4-of-9 performance in three games including two doubles.
Peterson led the tournament with nine RBIs, one better than teammate Simpson.
Amezquita, the winning pitcher in the world championship game, was one of three SLWS pitchers with two victories, along with Simpson and Guatemala City teammate Emilio Seijas.
Amezquita allowed six hits in 10 innings pitched with a 1.80 ERA.
Will Reid, a lefthander from U.S. Southwest champion West University Little League of Houston, Texas, had a tournament-high 12 strikeouts in 11⅔ innings pitched, followed by Simpson (11 strikeouts) and Seijas (10).
The two SLWS finalists ranked 1-2 in batting average, with Lemon Grove, Calif., hitting .337 (55 of 163) and Guatemala City at .331 (42 of 127). Guatemala City had the top pitching staff, allowing just eight earned runs on 14 hits in 33 innings with 26 strikeouts and 15 walks.
“We’ve worked 100 percent in every aspect of the game,” said Hoyos, the Guatemala City manager. “We can’t always rely on the pitchers to strike out batters all the time, so we have to rely on our defense and that makes the pitchers more comfortable.
“That’s how you win games, with pitching and defense.”
The Bayside Westhaven Little League of Auckland, New Zealand, was the recipient of the Danny Clifford Sportsmanship Award during the annual tournament banquet held Friday evening at the Bangor Civic Center.
The New Zealand team, the first from its nation to qualify for a World Series in any division, finished pool play with an 0-4 record.
The award is named for Clifford, a longtime Little League volunteer who served as the SLWS assistant tournament director from its arrival in Bangor in 2002 until his death in 2007.
The New Zealand team became the fourth straight Asia-Pacific champion to receive the Clifford award, following the Philippines in 2009 and 2011 and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in 2010.
The banquet’s featured speaker was Brewer native and former major league pitcher Danny Coombs.