Source: South Williamsport, Pa.
Date/Time: Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011, 3:00pm ET
A 5-run fourth inning lifted the Northwest Region Champions from Billings, Mont., over Midwest Region Champions (Rapid City, S.D.), 6-4, in the first 2011 Little League World Series game for both teams.
Some members of the Northwest team admitted to being nervous being in Williamsport, and a rocky start ensued. Down 2-1 heading into the fourth, manager Gene Carlson's message of patience at the plate proved worthy.
"They always look for a good pitch to hit, and if it's not a good pitch they're not going to swing," Carlson said. "They're well disciplined hitters."
Northwest drew four consecutive walks—the first a hit batter, the latter three on balls—to tie the score and load the bases with no one out.
Midwest pitcher Brett Beyer settled down, picked up two quick outs on a strikeout and a weak grounder and was nearly out of the inning.
Second baseman Connor Kieckbusch blooped a single to center that fell just far enough past the outstretched arms of shortstop Hayden McGriff, bringing home two runs to give Northwest their first lead of the day.
Pitcher Cole McKenzie then rifled a two-out, two-RBI double to left-center to extended the lead to 6-2.
Northwest was able to do all this while only amassing four hits for the game. Midwest manager Kasey McGriff knows better than to trust box scores.
"I sit outside and look at the stats that I have in front of me, and you wouldn't guess the outcome of the game," McGriff said. "They made some key plays."
On the mound, McKenzie allowed six hits and four earned runs in five innings while striking out three.
Three of those runs came off of solo home runs. Two off the bat of outfielder Erik Petry and one from McGriff.
"I just forget about it, really," McKenzie said. "We always stay in the game, no matter what happens. We're a tough team."
His pitching performance was aided by solid defense behind him and two diving plays by Kieckbusch.
The first thwarted what could have been a game-breaking first inning for Midwest, when Kieckbusch dove for a ball with runners on first and second and no one out, caught it, sprung up and doubled off the runner at first.
An inning later, already down 2-0 with a runner on, Kieckbusch dove to his left, grabbed a hard-hit grounder and threw the runner out to end the inning.
"There's [two] good plays that basically kept us in the game," Carlson said. "[Midwest] has the ability to score a lot of runs."
Kieckbusch was one of the few who admitted to being nervous before his team's first game.
"I felt nervous because we're in Williamsport," he said. "I didn't know what to expect, but now I feel more excited than nervous. As the game went on I kind of relaxed."