Game 30: West 12 vs. Southwest 2

San Antonio Spurred

Author: By Zach Swartz - Special Correspondent

Source: South Williamsport, Pa.

Date/Time: Saturday, August 29, 2009, 7:00pm ET

Saturday night, dominance was spelled C-H-U-L-A.

Imagine the ideal pitching performance. Then take the power of the long ball, stir in some untimely mistakes from the opponent and the virtual lack of any nerves whatsoever, wrap it all up in a big baby blue bow, and you’ll have the recipe for what the West Region Champions from Chula Vista, Calif. accomplished in the U.S. Championship game.

And that was all in the first inning.

They needed only three.

The West Region Champs chucked a nine-spot on the scoreboard in the first inning. It was a jumpstart strong enough to propel them to a victory—a 12-2, mercy rule-shortened one that proclaimed them U.S. Champions. Next up is the Little League World Series Championship game Sunday against the historically-strong Asia-Pacific region, this year represented by Taoyuan, Chinese Taipei.

“I mean, I never thought I’d hear those words about our team when we first started this thing,” Chula Vista manager Oscar Castro said. “But it sounds good. I like it.”

It was six up, six on, and five in for Chula Vista right off the bat. An Andy Rios leadoff single and Kiko Garcia walk put runners on first and second for Luke Ramirez, who did what he’s done best this whole tournament: hit home runs. His swing sent the ball into orbit before it dropped over the right centerfield wall and handed his team a 3-0 edge.

San Antonio manager Mike Shull went to the bullpen, but Bulla Graft, slotted in the fourth spot for the second straight game in the tournament, went back-to-back. His blast sent the lead to 4-0 and, in turn, opened the floodgates.

Two errors put the next two runners on base, and a subsequent groundout put another run on the board. A third error and a walk loaded the bases, setting the table for Rios, who hammered a grand slam that made the score 9-0. And there was still just one out.

The inning would end eventually, but not before 14 players had batted and everybody in the starting lineup had either reached base or recorded an RBI.

“I just tried to cheer them up, tell them there was plenty of game left, get their chins up and keep playing,” Shull said about his dugout speech after the long inning. “Obviously they were disappointed. Nothing went right.”

His son John Shull, who started for the Southwest Region Champions, had felt a little soreness in his elbow before the game, and his father and manager said that probably had a lot to do with the quick struggles.

On the same mound but with the other team was Ramirez, who put up outstanding numbers. Not allowing a hit until a Shull two-bagger with one out in the fourth, the 6-foot-2, 212-pound slugger complemented his first-inning jack with a four-inning, six-strikeout, one-earned-run win.

“I guess they were both nice,” Ramirez said about his home run and pitching performance. “I mean, the home run got some runs on the board and we were able to get enough up to get the Run Rule. I guess I did all right pitching, too.”

His teammate Graft further verified his manager’s choice to slot him in the fourth spot with a two-run shot in the third, a no-doubter to left center.

“The main thing we’re trying to do is protect (Garcia),” Castro said about the lineup change. “With Luke right behind him, we just felt that he was going to get more pitches. We also felt that Bulla would probably be looked over a little bit, that he would be challenged a little bit more, and he took advantage tonight.”

Garcia and Ramirez had combined for six home runs coming into the game. Graft had none.

Through their five games, the West Region Champs have hit a Little League World Series record 19 homers, breaking the previous mark of 15 set in 2003 by a team from Tokyo, Japan.

Their four in Saturday night’s contest helped push them into the final against Chinese Taipei, the Little League World Series leader in appearances (23) and championships (17).

It also pushed San Antonio, a team that Shull estimates is 50-2 in its past three years of all-star play, out of the door. But that is a team that is quick to admit that its run has been more than worth it.

“My arm hurts from batting practice, but I’ve enjoyed every moment of it,” he said. “For the kids, I am absolutely tickled pink that they got to do everything that they did. We’ve had a lot of detractors say we wouldn’t get out of sectionals, we wouldn’t get out of state, we wouldn’t get out of region. So we actually just enjoyed our time here at the Little League World Series because we weren’t supposed to be here.

“I think they’re over it right now. I’m sure they’re up in the rec center right now waiting for Chula Vista to show up so they can woop them in ping pong.”

Chula Vista may end up with a loss at the ping pong tables back at the Creighton J. Hale International Grove, but it can say now that it is the best Little League team in the United States.

“This is an awesome feeling right now,” Ramirez said. “This team has been together since we were seven or eight years old and we’ve all known each other. We’re practically family, we’re all brothers out there and we get to share this together.”

The Little League World Series Championship game takes place Sunday at 3 p.m. at Howard J. Lamade Stadium. San Antonio and Mexico will also play in the Consolation Game, set to be played at Volunteer Stadium at 11 a.m. Both Chula Vista and San Antonio will be the home team.