Game 26
Northwest  4
 vs. Great Lakes 3

Wednesday,
 August 23, 2006
7:30PM ET


Eager Beavers Run Wild
Albert’s Speed, Keller and DeJardin’s Combined No-Hitter Allow Northwest to Advance to U.S. Championship

By Brandon Miller
Special Correspondent

The duel for the first spot in the U.S. Championship began at Howard J. Lamade Stadium, where the Northwest All-Stars from Beaverton, Ore., defeated the Great Lakes All-Stars from Lemont, Ill., 4-3, in a contest that went do to the last out.

In the bottom of the sixth, with the tying run on third and the winning run on second, Northwest second baseman Sam Albert snagged a grounder and made a throw to first that was scooped from the dirt by Jace Fry just ahead of Great Lakes’ Michael Hall.

That play secured the Northwest Region champion a spot in Saturday’s U.S. Championship.

“(Fry) backhanded the ball,” said Great Lakes manager Mike Hall. “If that ball goes in the dirt, we win the game.”

It wasn’t the only great play in the inning. At second base, Albert recorded the first out by going deep in the whole behind second on a grounder and made a strong through across his body to first.

“Those were probably the best plays I’ve ever made in my life,” said Albert. “Thankfully, I had Jace there because he’s one of the best first basemen I’ve ever seen. He kind of saved some of my throws.”

“I was really scared,” said Devon DeJardin, who came on to relieve starter Derek Keller for the fifth and sixth innings. “After the one run scored on the passed ball, I was really getting kind of nervous. I just came back and tried to throw strikes and luckily we have a good second baseman that stopped the ball and made an OK throw.”

The comment prompted an elbow from Albert who was sitting next to him at the table, eliciting a chorus of laughs from the press.

The defensive gems preserved a combined no-hitter by Keller and DeJardin, who did combine to walk six and throw four wild pitches (and two passed balls), which contributed to all three Great Lakes runs.

With the game tied at 2-2 in the top of the sixth, DeJardin laid down a one-out bunt to score the speedy Albert from third. Albert had led off the inning with a double to center, and then advanced to third on a wild pitch.

“I never knew he would take a 5-foot-10 guy and have him lay down a bunt,” DeJardin said of his coach. “I was kind of nervous, but I saw the curveball, so I sat back on it and just punched it down.”

DeJardin was replaced by special pinch runner Austin Perry, who stole second base, advanced to third on a throwing error by the catcher, and then made it home when another throwing error on the same play by the centerfielder got by third base. The run by Perry proved to be the winning tally.

“The heart and character that these guys show is not surprising anymore,” said manager Keller. “It’s an amazing experience to go out there every day and watch these kids lay it on the line.”

In an unusual fashion, Great Lakes struck first, putting up two runs without even recording a hit.

With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the third, Keller uncorked his second wild pitch of the inning to score the first run of the game. David Hearne followed with a sacrifice fly, which scored Ferry from third, making the score, 2-0 Great Lakes.

“I thought for sure we’d hold the lead with a 2-0 advantage,” said manager Hall.

But the Northwest All-Stars didn’t waste any time getting back in the game. After Keller reached on an error in the top of the fourth, a wild play ensued that saw Albert round every base and tie the score at 2-2.

Albert hit a rocket to centerfield that got under the glove of Zack Kutsulis and rolled to the wall. Keller would have scored the only run on the play. However, an error by the shortstop on the throw into the infield allowed Albert to continue all the way home.

“When I saw the ball go past (the centerfielder) I knew I could at least go three,” said Albert. “But then I went a little too far and the ground is a little slippery, and I couldn’t get my footing, so I kind of just thought I could get three and then just went home.”

In a losing effort, Hearne’s pitching performance was solid, as he stuck out 14 Northwest batters, including the first seven of the game. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough to overcome the mistakes in the field and the speed of Northwest, which constantly surprised Great Lakes with their aggressiveness on the bases.

Keller and DeJardin only allowed two balls to leave the infield the entire game, one being the sacrifice fly by Hearne.

Through 26 games at the Little League Baseball World Series, 11 have been decided by one run.

 


 


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