BANGOR, Maine — The Southern Mariners Little League of Melbourne, Australia, scored five runs in the bottom of the seventh inning Thursday night to stun host Bronco-Hermon 7-6 in a Senior League World Series semifinal at Mansfield Stadium.
Australia, 3-1 in the tournament, will play U.S. Central champion Clear Ridge Little League of Chicago, Illinois, in Saturday’s 2 p.m. final.
Clear Ridge improved to 4-0 with a 7-0 victory over U.S. Southeast champion Dumfries, Virginia, in Thursday’s first semifinal.
Bronco-Hermon, the third straight host team from Maine District 3 to advance to the SLWS semifinals, ends its tournament run with a 2-1 record.
“There’s not much you can say to make anyone feel better when you lose like that after you’re real close to where you want to be,” said Bronco-Hermon manager Matt Kinney. “The big thing was I wanted them to keep their heads up. The thing that hurts the most is that they took a lot of pride in how they were playing, it meant a lot to them and you could see that in their faces. But it’s baseball.”
Bronco-Hermon controlled most the game behind the pitching of right-hander Zach Nash, who allowed two runs on four hits before leaving the game with a 6-2 lead after reaching the 95-pitch Senior League limit.
But Australia, which rallied from a 6-1 deficit in its victory over Puerto Rico on Wednesday, came back again in even more dramatic fashion in the bottom of the seventh.
Singles by Jai Lyttleton and Aidan Willis around a walk to Taj Clayton loaded the bases for Australia with nobody out, then Jordan Barnett singled to right to close the gap to 6-3.
Jack Dunn chopped a two-run single over third base to make it a one-run game with still no one out.
A one-out walk to Ciaran Palmer re-loaded the bases, then John Paul Callil grounded to third. Bronco-Hermon third baseman Rece Poulin threw to second for the forceout as Barnett scored from third, and Dunn never stopped as he raced home from second with the winning run.
“We got off to a good start in the inning, and it just unfolded in our favor.” said Australia manager Rick Willis. “We got lucky to survive the first six innings, but there’s no greater feeling than walking off with victory.”
Barnett had three hits for Australia, while Lyttleton and Willis added two runs each.
Alex McKenney paced Bronco-Hermon’s offense with a double, single and two RBIs, while Alex Applebee singled twice and scored twice and Casey Sudbeck and Mark Mailloux also singled twice apiece.
While Nash kept the hard-hitting Australian offense in check, the Asia-Pacific champions were without four pitchers who weren’t yet eligible to return to action after working earlier in the tournament.
Bronco-Hampden jumped out to a 1-0 lead against Aussie starter Tim Lane in the top of the first, but some good defense kept the rally from being larger.
Mailloux blooped an opposite-field single to right field to lead off the inning. Applebee then flared a single to right, and Mailloux attempted to score when the throw in from the outfield went awry — only to be thrown out on a perfect throw to the plate by Lyttleton in left field.
Lane struck out the next batter, but he didn’t fool McKenney, who blasted the first pitch he saw over the head of center fielder Aidan Willis for an RBI double.
Lane escaped further harm as catcher Palmer made an inning-ending sliding catch of a foul pop by Nash near the Australian dugout.
The Maine District 3 champs broke the game open in the third, sending eight batters to the plate during a three-run uprising.
An infield error, a fielder’s choice grounder by Mailloux and a walk to Applebee left Bronco-Hermon with runners on first and second with one out.
Sudbeck then grounded a sharp single to left, but Applebee got caught in a rundown between second and third bases on the play — only to escape and reach third on an errant throw home in an unsuccessful attempt to cut down Mailloux at the plate.
McKenney singled to center to drive home Applebee and Nash blasted an RBI double to left to make it 4-0.
Australia got a run back in the bottom of the third as Barnett ripped a one-out triple to deep right and scored on a wild pitch.
But Bronco-Hermon answered in the fourth on a walk to Poulin, a sacrifice by Trask, a wild pitch and a two-out RBI single to left by Sudbeck.
Back-to-back one-out singles by Nick Robidoux and Christian Greener in the top of the fifth marked the end of Lane’s night on the mound.
A wild pitch by reliever Ridge Hogan moved the runners to second and third, and a walk to Poulin and another wild pitch forced Robidoux home to make it 6-1.
Lyttleton doubled to right to open the Australia fifth, stole third and scored on Willis’ sacrifice fly to narrow the gap to 6-2.
ALL-STAR FRIDAY: A Senior League World Series all-star game will be held at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Mansfield Stadium.
Four players from each of the eight teams that didn’t qualify for Saturday’s world championship game will play in the all-star contest. Admission is free for the public.