Game 24
West 9
 vs.
Midwest 2

Wednesday, August 22, 2007
4:00PM ET


How the West Won
Chandler, Ariz. earns spot in U.S. semifinals with 9-2 triumph over Coon Rapids, Minn.

By Allie Weinberger
Special Correspondent

The field is finally set.

Backed by a seven-run fifth inning and a lights-out performance by starting pitcher Seth Fretheim, the champs from the West trampled their Midwest rivals, 9-2, in Pool B action Wednesday night in front of 9,600 in and around Howard J. Lamade Stadium.

With Lubbock, Texas already set to advance out of the pool, the stakes were high: it was win-and-you’re-in, and both teams knew it.

The scoring got going early, and after four innings the game was all knotted up at 2-2. And that’s when the West champs made their move – a couple of them.

But not before Minnesota made a move on the mound. With starter Adam Recksiedler sitting at 75 pitches through four innings, the Midwest champs passed the ball to hurler Tanner Lowe to start the fifth.

With a new and unfamiliar pitcher on the mound, Fretheim worked a leadoff walk before Cody Bellinger hit a bloop single into shallow left field. A wild pitch two batters later moved the runners into scoring position, threatening to break the 2-2 deadlock.

“Our game plan is offense,” said Arizona coach Clay Bellinger. “There’s not a whole lot of defense to our offense. We don’t bunt a lot, if a guy’s on second base, we try to move him over, but it’s not a big thing – we don’t preach that. If a guy’s on base, we want these kids swinging.

“Let the kids play,” he echoed. “Let him swing his bat and good things will happen.”

And they did.

A walk to Matthew Haggerty loaded the bases for Kyle Pechloff with just one out in the inning, and Pechloff came through with a sharp line drive down the left field line. The single scored two runs to make it 4-2. Pechloff took second on the throw home.

But the inning was far from over for Lowe and his teammates. Pinch hitter Boston Whitlow’s groundout scored Haggerty from third, moving Pechloff to third with two outs for Connor Woods.

Woods slapped an RBI double to bring in his teammate and make the score 6-2, while the next batter, Scott Wojnar, singled Woods in before getting himself into – and safely out of – a rundown between first and second.

No. 9 hitter Jake McCann kept the rally alive, drawing a two-out walk before Fretheim came around again to bring both Wojnar and McCann home with a two-run double to the warning track, making the score a whopping 9-2.

And that would be all for Lowe, who was relieved by Anthony Mrosla.

“Tanner took it hard today,” said Minnesota manager and dad Mark Lowe. “I’ve never seen that with Tanner before. We’ll spend some time tonight, but it’s tough. He had a great series and he’ll understand in the near future that he should be very proud of himself.”

Mrosla got Cody Bellinger to pop up for the final out of the fifth inning, which was detrimental to the Midwest champs.

“You never know [when the bats will come alive],” said Fretheim. “We might strike out the side the first inning and the next inning come back and everybody gets a base hit.”

“I knew once we got on base we’d put some pressure on them, and that’s exactly what happened,” said Arizona coach Clay Bellinger.

All-in-all, the top of the fifth saw the Chandler National Little Leaguers bat around the order, scoring seven runs on five hits to go up 9-2 – a score that would stick.

“For one reason or another we didn’t have quality at bats,” said Lowe. “But like I told the kids, we are in Little League Baseball heaven.”

But it was Minnesota who drew first blood in the game. A Lowe single in the top of the first brought home Dominique Reff, who had doubled two batters earlier. The Midwest champs would strand one in the bottom of the first and score again in the second to go up 2-0, when starter Recksiedler turned his double into a run (thanks to a fielder’s choice and a wild pitch in subsequent batters) before Fretheim was able to strike out the side.

Recksiedler made fairly easy work of the West in the first two innings, allowing a hit and a walk with four strikeouts to preserve his side’s 2-0 shutout.

“That kid, he was lights out,” said Bellinger.

But Arizona would come back to tie it in the top of the third, when Fretheim took Recksiedler deep with Jake McCann already on second.

“I got up to the plate confident, got two strikes on me early,” said Fretheim. “[But] he gave me a fastball and I was looking for fastball low and inside.

“If I get a good swing,” he said, “I know if I tell myself I can, I’ll be confident.”

And there was defense, to compliment the potent offense, from the West champs on the field as well.

In the bottom of the fourth, Pechloff – in his third position of the game – made the top play of the night, diving backward toward second base to field a line drive off the bat of Coon Rapids pinch hitter Peter Anderson to close out the inning.

“I haven’t played second base throughout my career,” said Pechloff. “So I just saw the ball coming to me, dove for it and got it, and threw it to first base.”

The Coon Rapids Little Leaguers went down in order in the bottom of the fifth inning. Msosla finished off the heart of Arizona’s order in the top of the sixth without any further damage, but Minnesota was down to its last three outs.

Just three little outs kept the Chandler boys from their dreams and the boys from Coon Rapids clutching onto theirs for dear life.

And the closing job fell to who else, but Kyle Pechloff – the man who got the scoring rally going an inning earlier and made the (likely) top-10 nominee grab at second – to finish the gem his teammate Fretheim had started.

And the inning went like this:

Dominique Reff: down on strikes. Cody Herrmann: hit by a pitch.

And while a Lowe single skipped under the glove of shortstop Luke Parrish and a passed ball moved the runners into scoring position, Pechloff finished off his Pool B rivals with cool confidence, getting Nathan LaBrant to go down on three straight strikes.

“They’re champions,” Lowe told his team after the loss. “Guys, hold your heads high, walk around this place for the rest of the week. You are champions.”

Fretheim finished the game 2-for-3 with four RBI. He threw five innings, allowing just a trio of hits and a pair of runs with one walk and eight strikeouts.

Recksiedler threw four innings, giving up three hits, two runs and two walks with six strikeouts.

Now, the West champs go on to face the Southeast champs for Georgia in Thursday’s x p.m. United States semifinal.

“We didn’t come here to come in fourth, we came here to win it,” said Bellinger. “We’re happy to be where we are, but we still got three more games to go, hopefully.

“We feel we’re as good as anybody, so we’ll see what happens tomorrow,” he added. “If we play the way we can – it’ll be a good game.”

 


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