Source: South Williamsport, Pa.
Date/Time: Wednesday, August 24, 2011, 8:00pm ET
For two hours and six and a half innings, Billings, Mont., and Hunting Beach, Calif., couldn’t muster a single run or really any offense at all between them.
Then Billings left fielder Ben Askelson drove the second pitch he saw over the left field wall for an extra-inning, walk-off 1-0 win to send his Northwest regional champions to the United States Championship Game of the 2011 Little League Baseball World Series Saturday, where they will await the winner of Hunting Beach and Clinton County, Pa.
Askelson knew what pitch was coming, and he hammered it.
“Right before he threw the pitch I was thinking curveball all the way, and he did [throw the curveball],” Askelson said. “I didn’t really know if I’d hit it if he threw a curveball, but I was looking for a curveball.”
In the previous six innings before Askelson’s game-ending no-doubter, Billings’ bats were rendered almost useless against West pitchers Nick Pratto and Braydon Salzman.
Northwest registered three hits and only advanced one runner past first base before Askelson provided all the punch manager Gene Carlson needed.
“It was a tough game, it really was,” Carlson said. “[West] had two good pitchers [who] we really struggled with the whole game. [We knew] runs were gonna be tough to come by.”
Pratto, the West’s starter, couldn’t have opened the game much hotter. He threw four innings, gave up only two hits and struck out eight of the first 10 batters he faced before being taken out on his 50th pitch to ensure he can throw on Sunday should he be needed in the world championship game.
Northwest second baseman Connor Kieckbusch was impressed with the movement on Pratto’s fastball.
“I felt his fastball was kinda tailing on us, and we’ve never seen that before,” he said. “It was really hard to hit.”
Reliever Salzman was almost equally tough to hit. He threw 17 strikes to only one ball over two shutout innings.
For 68 pitches, Huntington Beach’s pitching staff couldn’t be touched. But on the 69th, Billings caught up to them with a bang.
Northwest starting pitcher Cole McKenzie, who threw 5.2 innings, allowed three hits and struck out four on 85 pitches, had to survive some close calls just to reach the extra frame.
In the top of the second inning, Hunting Beach loaded the bases via two walks and a hit batsman. McKenzie recovered and struck out center fielder Christian Catano for the second out.
Two pitches later, McKenzie threw it by catcher Andy Maehl. Justin Cianca, the runner on third, broke for home but Maehl quickly located the ball and flipped it to McKenzie, who applied the tag a split-second before Cianca’s foot crossed the plate.
In the fourth, the West placed runners on second and third with two outs, but McKenzie fanned Jack Furry to end the inning.
In the sixth, the bases were loaded with two outs for West catcher Hagen Danner, who drove a hard-hit line drive to left field, but hit it right at Askelson, who made an easy catch.
“Yeah, we were dodging bullets for a while,” Carlson said.
Now, McKenzie is looking to face Clinton County, Pa., and the possible crowd of up to 50,000 that could come with it for a Saturday game.
“I wanna play the mob,” he said.