An Arabian Night
Saudi Arabia was down and out before the start of its game against Panama Tuesday night at Volunteer Stadium.
But that didn’t stop them from coming into the game with expectations of winning.
Well, they won all right, defeating Panama by a score of 11-0.
Heading into the game, Saudi Arabia had already been eliminated from playoff contention. With Japan’s 4-2 win over Curacao earlier in the afternoon, both Japan and Curacao had two wins a piece in pool play. Since Saudi Arabia was 0-2, they had no shot of advancing into the semifinal round.
“Knowing we were gone already, it got us hyped up,” said shortstop Nikko Echevarria. “We said we just had to win. We hit the ball good, better than we ever had before.”
“We went out there to have fun,” added first baseman Cord Heine. “Nikko’s first home run kind of started us up and we got going after that.”
Said pitcher Drew Crofton, “We felt that we might as well play as hard as we can.”
The Saudi Arabian kids hit a total of five home runs in the 11-hit attack.
Nikko Echevarria led the charge with three homers, a mark that ties a Little League World Series record for homeruns in one game. The last player to accomplish the feat was Tetsuya Furukawa of Kashima, Japan in 1998.
The first was a two-run shot in the first that fell just short of the Carl E. Stotz scoreboard, which stands 40 feet beyond the left field wall. His second and third homers were line drives to straightaway center field.
“I was sitting on a curve,” Echevarria said of his third home run. “It tried to hit a line drive and I hit it well.”
Echevarria’s third round-tripper, a fourth-inning shot, increased his team’s lead to 7-0.
Drew Crofton followed Echevarria’s second home run with a homer of his own. The back-to-back jacks increased Saudi Arabia’s lead to 5-0 at the time.
“It felt good to walk away with a win, pitch a shutout and hit a home run,” Crofton said.
Crofton tossed a complete-game shutout in addition to hitting his home run. He struck out five and did not walk a batter.
“I came into today’s game with much more confidence,” he added. “I threw better than I ever had before.”
“I thought he did an excellent job,” said Saudi Arabia manager Tommy Bumstead. “He kept the ball low and he had them off balance all day.”
Cord Heine hit a two-run homer to left-center field to close out the scoring at 11-0.
“I knew it was going to be my last at-bat,” he said. “I wanted to hit it hard.”
Saudi Arabia, along with Panama, finish pool play with records of 1-2. Both teams will head home, but not before having a great experience at Williamsport.
“I’m really proud of all the kids,” Bumstead said. “There were 12 players that contributed all tournament long. They play excellent baseball.
“Today, I tried to stress that this was their last Little League game. We put on a good show.”
- Mark Rogoff