Michelangelo Trinidad of Willemstad, Curacao could not have painted a better picture in his team’s opening game at the Little League World Series.
His fourth-inning solo homer got Curacao on the board, but his teammates had to add two more runs to hold off Panama, 3-2.
“(David Montilla) was throwing very hard,” Trinidad said. “I just timed it and hit it out. I’m feeling good because I hit a home run for my country.”
The Caribbean champs tacked on two more runs in the same inning, which eventually iced the victory. Devin Lake’s RBI single plated Erick Rafael. Two batters later Lake scored on a wild pitch, and that turned out to be the game-winner.
The pitching of Rafael also contributed to the cause. The right-hander tossed a complete game 3-hitter. He allowed just one hit through the first five innings. That hit came in the first when he gave up a double to Panama catcher Luis Quintero. He got himself into a bind two batters later by issuing a walk to David Montilla. He went on to strike out Elidio Rodriguez, however, to escape the jam.
Panama made it interesting once again in the sixth when Otto Castillo belted a two-run home run to the opposite field. They managed to get the tying run on base, but could not push him across.
“My ability to shake off my catcher when I needed to was the one factor that helped me do well,” Rafael said. “In one case I shook off my catcher so I could throw curveballs to the number four hitter.”
“I have a lot of trust in him,” added Curacao manager Mark van Zanten. “I know that if he has the lead it’s difficult to beat him. He has a lion’s heart.”
And he wasn’t the only one who had his heart set out to beat the Latin America champs. According to van Zanten, this game was like a championship contest to determine the real winner of the Latin America region. This year’s Latin America region was split into two (Latin America and Caribbean) due to the expansion of the tournament.
“This was like a final for the Latin America region,” van Zanten said. “There was a lot of speculation about who is the best. (Today’s win) is a success no matter what else happens here.”
The win came in Curacao’s first-ever appearance at the Little League World Series. The team next faces Saudi Arabia Sunday at 7 p.m. in Lamade Stadium.
“This is the first step to go to the next round,” Trinidad said of today’s victory.
On the other side of the coin, Panama manager Gabriel Ramos realizes the pressure to win in Williamsport.
“We are under some pressure,” he said. “I tried to lighten up that pressure, but we know we have the responsibility to uphold that Latin America championship. The first thing I told them was to defend that title, but I understand they are just kids and are under a lot of pressure.”
Maracaibo, Venezuela of the Latin America Region took home the crown in last year’s Series.
“I expect more offense (Monday), but it’s hard because this is the first time the team has been in this kind of setting,” added Ramos.
Panama takes on Japan Monday at 8 p.m. in Volunteer Stadium.