Game 32: West 6 vs. Asia-Pacific 3

CONGRA-CHULA-TIONS!
West region champions from Chula Vista, Calif., outlast Chinese Taipei to gut out 2009 Little League World Series championship

Author: Zach Swartz - Special Correspondent

Source: South Williamsport, Pa.

Date/Time: Sunday, August 30, 2009, 3:00pm ET

That feeling of victory—you know, the one where an indescribable ball of energy comes barreling up from the stomach and into the chest and you just don’t know how to release it—finds so many ways to be let out in the world of sports.

Chula Vista, Calif., didn’t take time to pick and choose after the final pitch of the 2009 Little League World Series was thrown. They just did it all. The West region champions had instantly become World Series Champions with a 6-3 comeback victory—the second straight come-from-behind win in a World Series final.

“It’s just amazing to be called [World Champions],” said Andy Rios, who went 3-for-3 with an RBI in the game. “We just wanted to come in here and just try to go for it and we did. It’s just an amazing feeling.”

The go-ahead and would-be winning run came on Bulla Graft’s RBI single that made it 4-3 in the fourth.

After the final pitch was thrown and that feeling was confirmed, Kiko Garcia, who entered in the third, tossed 3.2 innings of no-hit relief and earned the win, fell to his knees. Luke Ramirez sprinted to the mound. Gloves and hats flew. Fists pumped.

“Luke grabbed me, dragged me down, fell on top of me and I lost air,” Garcia said about the melee.

His team didn’t have much room to breathe for most of the game, either.

Chinese Taipei had its time to pump fists in the third. A two-out, two-run home run from Wen Hua Sung gave the Asia-Pacific champs an early 2-0 advantage. The next batter, Chin Ou, fought off a 1-2 count and cracked one of his own to right, adding a run to the lead.

But Garcia came in after the back-to-back jacks and put up a that’s-all-she-wrote kind of performance, striking out six batters in his 3.2 scoreless innings.

Chula Vista loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the third but was only able to cut the deficit to 3-1 on an error.

Garcia’s 1-2-3 performance in the top of the fourth held that score and begged the West region champs to take advantage. They did.

Jensen Peterson and Nick Conlin, who had entered as defensive replacements in the top frame, led off with a single and a double to put runners on second and third. Seth Godfrey, the team’s No. 9 hitter who had entered the game batting .500 with three homers in the tournament, knocked a sacrifice fly to centerfield to bring his team to within a run. Conlin then scored on a wild pitch to knot it up at 3-3.

Rios followed with a single, and Ramirez took his second intentional walk of the game to load the bases again. Graft, who had struck out with the bases juiced the previous inning, stepped in. This time, he stepped up. His single to right scored Rios and provided a 4-3 lead at the end of the fourth.

But a one-run lead looks pretty small with the bases loaded and one out. In the top of the fifth, Garcia hit a pair of batters and walked another to fill the bags with one out, leaving it up to Chinese Taipei cleanup man Ou—the same Ou who had launched one out of the park in the third.

The ball he hit to shortstop was sure to score a run—that is, at least, until Rios stabbed the ball, tagged the runner aiming to third and fired to first for an inning-ending double play.

“What was going through my mind was that coach wanted corners in, and most of the batters that Kiko faced were up on him,” Rios said. “So I was cheating towards third base, and that’s where he hit it. I just tagged the runner and threw to first. The momentum was on their side when we had the bases loaded. But after I turned that double play it was all ours.”

There’s no denying that. After Chula Vista scored twice more in the bottom of the fifth, Chinese Taipei needed a trio of runs in the top of the sixth to prolong the game.
Garcia wanted none of that, and he finished by striking out the side—an appropriate instigator for the baby blue fracas that would ensue.

It was the first game in the tournament that the West region champs had failed to homer. Chula Vista on Saturday hit three home runs against San Antonio to establish a Little League Baseball World Series team record with 19 overall in the tournament.

“We knew we would come back because we knew we could hit any type of pitching,” Garcia said. “We knew we could come back. We always do.”

The win took the West region champs to 8-0 in elimination games during the all-star season. They became the first team from California to win the World Series since 1993, when a team from Long Beach, Calif., beat Panama. They are the fifth consecutive champion from the U.S.

“I think they’ve matured a lot as we’ve gone on, Chula Vista manager Oscar Castro said. “But I think there has been some key losses as we’ve gone on that have helped these boys mature a little bit quicker so they wouldn’t get so hot and think they were invincible. These guys have a lot of character, and coming back from that, even as a coach, you really feel that they can. But there’s always that little voice that you just kind of think, ‘To come back from that type of a loss, can they really do it?’ They proved me wrong every time.”

Their final comeback could not have come at a more opportune time. As the players on the newest World Champions sat in the post-game press conference—their final one in Williamsport, Pa., they were asked to sing “Sweet Caroline,” a song they began singing in the dugout before their regional games.

They obliged, ending it with an emphatic “Bah, bah, bah” and their fists raised high. That winning feeling could finally be released.