Game 29: Asia-Pacific 9 vs. Mexico 4

Sung in the Rain

Author: Allie Weinberger - Special Correspondent

Source: South Williamsport, Pa.

Date/Time: Day, August 29, 2009, 12:00pm ET

The Asia-Pacific champs made sure of one thing early on in Saturday’s rematch against Mexico in the International Championship: there would be no second chances for Marcelo Martinez and another no-hit bid.

They made that perfectly clear just two batters into the game. And after proving it not just to the crowd or to their opponents but to themselves as well, the Kuei-Shan Little Leaguers found the confidence they needed to get the victory, advancing to Sunday’s 2009 Little League World Series Championship game on the back of a 9-4 win.

But entering Saturday’s contest, the déjà vu in Howard J. Lamade Stadium was undeniable.

Just four days before, Chinese Taipei and Mexico faced off in the final game of pool play at the 2009 Little League World Series, a game that was supposed to have no more significance than determining who would finish first and who would take second, with both teams already set to advance into the next round. But what ended up in Tuesday’s contest was Mexico’s assertion of dominance, despite just a 3-2 final, as the Guadalupe Trevino Kelly Little Leaguers and their No. 3 starter Martinez would take a no-hit bid into the fifth.

“It wasn’t that [we had] confidence as related to beating the Asia-Pacific team,” said Mexico coach Carlos Noguera through interpreter Sergio Guzman. “It was more that [the boys] had confidence in themselves. They approached this game with a lot of confidence, but each game is different. We had to face a top team.”

“For [pitcher Wen Hua] Sung in the first and second rounds, we only pitched him under 20 [to keep him eligible to throw the next day],” said Asia-Pacific manager Chen Ta Lee through interpreter Ming Huang Yeh. “We set up for him to play in the International semifinal, and the coaches were really confident he could win this game.”

But the day didn’t start out how either team quite expected it to.

A rain delay stalled both teams during the latter half of the first inning, giving way to bright and sunny skies 38 minutes later as Sung returned to the mound and Luis Trevino reentered the batter’s box with a 1-1 count and one out.

But the rain also gave way to a Chinese Taipei surge, both in run production and from the mound. After getting the final two outs in the first, the Asia-Pacific champs came up in the second to take a 2-0 advantage thanks to a bevy of wild pitches, passed balls and pair of throwing errors from behind the plate.

In the third, Chinese Taipei struck again as Kuan Sheng Huang laid down a beautiful bunt that hugged the third base line with the bases loaded and just one out, scoring Sung from third. The pitcher led off the frame with a single to left while a walk and hit batsman followed to juice the bases, setting up the bunt opportunity.

Martinez would issue his second walk of the inning to the following batter, Yu Chieh Kao, forcing in Chin Ou from third for the fourth run of the game and a 4-0 Chinese Taipei lead.

But after Sung got a pair of 1-2-3 innings from the Mexico batters in the second and third, the bats of the Guadalupe Trevino Kelly Little Leaguers finally woke up.

Trevino knocked a leadoff single just out of the infield, advancing to third on a stolen base and subsequent fielder’s choice. He cut Chinese Taipei’s lead to 4-1 two batters later via a wild pitch, just before Raymundo Berrones ripped a long double back to the right centerfield wall. Berrones would come around to score one batter later, cutting Asia-Pacific’s lead to just two as Lee fielded a soft roller to third but couldn’t cut the big centerfielder down at home.

Mexico would come up with two more runs in its final frame on the back of a trio of hits, but not before Chinese Taipei tacked on five insurance runs in the top of the sixth to go up by seven. But in the midst of that five-run flooding, the flood gates opened from above onto Lamade Stadium, inducing the second rain delay of the afternoon, this one lasting nearly an hour.

“They tried to pick each other up [during the delay, down 9-2],” said Noguera. “They were telling jokes, playing pranks, telling themselves the same thing – it was just another game and to not face this game with a bad attitude. They told themselves they have already done a fantastic job the whole tournament. And they were reminiscing about how much fun they had so that cheered them up.”

Meanwhile, in the Chinese Taipei dugout, the Kuei-Shan Little Leaguers were doing a variety of things. Some did more stretching. Some talked about batting. Others practiced their swing. And those who weren’t doing the above… well, they just ate chocolate.

“To get energy going,” claimed they boys and their manager.

But when the game on the field finally resumed, it was all business, and it didn’t take the Chinese Taipei all-stars long to wrap up the 9-4 final.

The Asia-Pacific champs got back to their strong pitching roots in the win after struggling in their last meeting with Mexico, as Sung, who he has appeared in all five of his team’s games, threw a complete-game six-hitter.

“I’m really excited to win the International Championship,” said Sung. “But tomorrow we have another game – the really important game – so we have to keep going.”

Entering Saturday’s game, the young hurler has already tossed three scoreless innings with one win, allowing just one hit and striking out seven. And with him unavailable to pitch in Sunday’s Championship Game, Sung ends his Series on the hill with just seven hits allowed and 16 strikeouts in nine innings pitched.

“All you guys can see that No. 19, he’s got great speed,” said Lee. “Today during pregame practice he was throwing a breaking ball and it was much better than in previous games. We used that to confuse the batters’ speed. He’s doing a really good job.”

But not all losses are completely bitter – especially when it involves rain. And so it was that the Mexico champs reminded everyone what it means to be 12 and playing in a downpour, turning the field tarp into the largest Slip ’n Slide in Williamsport.

“It was a long game,” said Noguera, “but we told them it was just another game and to go out there and do their best.

“I’m very happy, very satisfied [with our performance at the Series],” he said. “Maybe we could have gotten a little more satisfaction if we had won the International Championship, but we really had a great team. And we were defeated by the best.”

With the win, Asia-Pacific goes on to Sunday’s 2009 Little League World Series Championship, where it will face the winner of the U.S. Championship game between the Southwest and the West. It will be Chinese Taipei’s 20th appearance in the title bout, of which they have won 17. Sunday’s championship is slated to start at 3 p.m.

“We don’t care who it’s against,” said Sung. “We just need to play hard.”

“And hopefully,” added Ou, “tomorrow we can win the World Series championship.”