Fernando-admiring lefty leads Mexico into LLWS title game
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) The title round at the Little League World Series is flush with second chances.
Pearland, Texas, hit a pair of homers in the bottom of the eighth inning Thursday night for a 9-7 victory over Bonita, California, and a berth in the U.S. championship game against what amounts to the tournament's home team.
After Bonita pulled ahead 7-6 in the top of the second extra inning, starting pitcher Ben Gottfried hit a tying solo shot and Caleb Low ended it with a two-run homer.
Pearland will play undefeated Lewisberry, Pennsylvania for the U.S. championship on Saturday. The winner will face the International bracket champion on Sunday for the World Series title.
Lewisberry beat Pearland 3-0 on Wednesday night to earn a berth in the title game in front of an estimated 35,000 fans, most of them cheering for the Pennsylvania team, which is only a two-hour drive away.
''It's going to be crazy,'' Pearland manager Andrew Solomon said. ''It was crazy out there last night. It's going to be fun, though.''
At least they know what to expect from the crowd the second time around.
''They sounded like my mom when she's mad,'' Gottfried said about the Lewisberry fans, adding, ''I probably shouldn't have said that.''
Low was replaced by a pinch-hitter in his previous at-bat. He didn't give his manager a chance to call for a pinch-hitter again in the eighth, sprinting out of the dugout with bat in hand when his turn came up.
''To be quite honest, Caleb ran out of the dugout so fast we didn't have a choice,'' Solomon said. ''That's the honest truth.''
''Kind of,'' he said. ''I felt more confident tonight.''
Mexicali Baja California, Mexico, didn't need any drama to beat Barquisimeto, Venezuela, 11-0 earlier Thursday and advance to the International title game. Mexicali gets a rematch with Tokyo, which won their earlier matchup 3-1.
The international game ended not with a dramatic homer, but with a swing-and-a-miss. Mexicali players ran from their positions to a spot between the mound and the plate, celebrating their berth in the International championship game.
One player was missing.
The last one to arrive was Daniel Zaragoza, who had to run all the way from right field - his position for the final out. It was the only time all day that No. 18 wasn't wasn't right in the middle of everything.
The left-hander who patterns himself after Fernando Valenzuela gave up only three hits, leading Mexicali to the win. He also had a two-run double that got it started.
Peering over his tan-and-black glove to get signs from the catch and then delivering the ball with a deliberate motion, Zaragoza looked a little bit like the famous Mexican pitcher - also a lefty - who sparked Fernandomania with the Dodgers in 1981. Asked for his favorite player, Zaragoza quickly answered: ''Fernando.''
Why? Because of his screwball. Can he throw one, too?
''No,'' Zaragoza said. ''It's hard.''
Tokyo's 3-1 win over Mexicali early in the tournament puts a little extra on the line.
''Baseball gives you revenge,'' said manager Jorge Joel Armenta, who has a tattoo of a rosary and No. 69 - his number as a player - on his right forearm. ''We want to play Japan.''
Barquisimeto came within one strike of reaching the International title game on Wednesday, before Tokyo tied it with an RBI single in the bottom of the sixth and then won it with three runs in the eighth. Barquisimeto used up its pitching staff in that one.
''Last night's game hurt, but we came in focused on today's game,'' manager Domingo A. Carrasquel said. ''Mexico just played better.''
Zaragoza's double in the second inning made it 2-0. Alberto Bustos had a two-run double in the third and a two-run homer in the fifth as Mexicali pulled away. Catcher Raul Leon added a three-run homer, his second in two games.
Zaragoza gave up three singles in 5 2-3 innings, leaving after reaching the limit with 89 pitches. He switched positions with right fielder Gerardo Lujano for the final out, and then made the long jog back toward the mound to join the celebration.
Mexicali thinks it's in a better place for the rematch with Japan. The offense has come around - Leon, the cleanup hitter, has driven in eight runs in the last two games - and the pitching and defense have remained a constant.
AP freelance writer Cody Butler contributed to this report.
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