2011 Little League Baseball World Series
Williamsport, Pennsylvania - August 18 - 28

Game 30: West 2 vs. Japan 1

In the Nick of time

West first baseman Nick Pratto's two-out, bases loaded single gives Ocean View Little League from Huntington Beach, Calif., a 2-1 walkoff win over Japan in the 2011 Little League Baseball Championship.

Author: Allie Weinberger

Source: South Williamsport, Pa.

Date/Time: Sunday, August 28, 2011, 3:00pm ET

There has been an earthquake and a tropical storm. Rain delays, first-time teams, hometown favorites, new attendance records.

In a 2011 Little League Baseball World Series full of unexpected firsts and exciting surprises, something had to happen that was typical, familiar, if you waited long enough. And here it was, Japan vs. California in the championship game. The typical powerhouse matchup – expected, popular, warranted – with everyone else watching from the stands.

Team sportsmanshipAnd the game, in typical fashion, was a tight one with dominating pitching, sharp fielding and limited scoring as the West champs from Huntington Beach, Calif., took a 2-1 walkoff win over the Hamamatsu Minami Little League to win the 2011 Little League Baseball World Series title.

But it wasn't an easy win for the Ocean View Little Leaguers. A 1-1 knot refused to break for the better part of Sunday's contest, and the teams took the tie all the way to the bottom of the sixth before West first baseman Nick Pratto's bases-loaded, game-winning hit plated special pinch runner Eric Anderson for the 2-1 victory. Anderson entered the game after Dylan Palmer reached base with a single to center field.

Stellar fielding in the top of the sixth provided Pratto with the opportunity to get the walkoff hit, though, as the California defense was integral in keeping Japan off the basepaths in the frame after a single from leadoff man Mitsuhiro Uchida.

Ken Igeta's attempt to bunt Uchida over resulted in an out at second rather than first, as pitcher Braydon Salzman – who threw a complete-game three-hitter – turned around just in time to get the advancing runner. And while Igeta would get to second on a passed ball a batter later, Yoshiki Suzuki's bunt back toward the pitcher resulted again in the elimination of the lead runner with an unconventional out that went from pitcher to shortstop (at second) to third for Palmer, who applied the tag as Igeta tried to move up just 60 feet from home.

A bloop ball hit softly to the edge of the grass between the pitcher and second baseman by Taiga Iwamoto looked like trouble for the West, but a strong throw and close play got the third out at first base to maintain the 1-1 tie heading into the final half-frame of regulation play.

Japan 3rd base playIn the bottom of the inning, Salzman started California out with a five-pitch walk, setting up Palmer for a knock back up the middle that quickly put two on with nobody out. As the order turned back over for leadoff man Hagen Danner with one away, luck came in the form of an error by shortstop Gaishi Iguchi, who booted what could have been an easy double play ball to load the bases.

Japan would get the second out on a force at home, but when Pratto turned on a 2-0 pitch and sent it sailing up the middle and into centerfield, the celebration began, as Palmer touched the plate for a walkoff title victory.

"I was ahead in the count, and I was just looking for a good pitch to hit, to drive, and I got it," said Pratto. "When I was walking up, I was thinking 'oh god, oh god.' But once I got in the box, I just started to calm down, get my head straight and see the ball. I just thought 'See it. Drive it.'"

"He's a clutch kind of hitter, we have a couple of those on the team," said manager Jeff Pratto, Nick's father. "I just thought to our game back at Red Bluff, the game that got us here. Braydon [Salzman] set up the inning with a walk and that was the key. I knew if we got one of [our seven, eight, nine hitters] on and got to the top of the order that we'd be OK."

Which isn't to mean nobody was nervous.

"I felt the tension in the last inning with the bases loaded," said Danner. "I was on second base hoping [Nick] would come through, and he did."

"I felt the tension in the last inning with the bases loaded," said Danner. "I was on second base hoping [Nick] would come through, and he did."

Despite only three combined runs in the game, the West threatened in its first opportunity to bat, putting runners on the corners with a pair of walks (Trevor Windisch took third on a wild pitch) in the bottom of the first. But Japan starter Shoto Totsuka got out of the jam inducing a soft looper to second to keep the scoreboard blank.

Palmer almost got the game's first hit an inning later with a tailing fly ball down the right field line, but outfielder Kazuto Takakura made a nice outstretched running grab to hold Salzman at second (walk, wild pitch) and subsequently get out of the inning, stranding yet another Huntington Beach runner.

It would be Hamamatsu City's number seven hitter who would finally record the matchup's first knock in the top of the third, dropping a Salzman pitch over the head of shortstop Windisch and into shallow left. Totsuka would help himself out from the plate a batter later, dropping down a near-perfect bunt that pulled Palmer in from third base and allowed special pinch runner Kaito Suzuki to advance to second and then to third on the throw.

But when the West tried to catch Suzuki on his way to third, an errant throw gave him all the time in the world to get home, scoring the first run of the game for a 1-0 Japan lead.

The advantage lasted just mere pitches, though, as Huntington Beach hero Danner lofted Totsuka's second offering of the bottom half of the inning over the wall in right centerfield to knot the score.

"That was vital, to get that right back quickly," said the elder Pratto. "[Coach] Tony [Cianca] even said, 'OK guys, it's a three-inning ballgame. It's 0-0 and we're gonna play three innings.' That's where Braydon's efficiency comes in."

Salzman pitchingEfficient is an understatement when it came to Salzman's performance Sunday. The only pitcher for the West side, he struck out nine in six innings of work without allowing an earned run.

"He has a really good fastball, good rhythm and control," said Japan manager Akihiro Suzuki through interpreter Kotaro Omori. "He was a really nice pitcher."

"I keep saying – I've said it for three different games now – he pitched the greatest game of his life," said the West manager. "He was the right guy for the job today – a pitcher who is very efficient, able to change speeds and able to hit his spots, which is what you need to beat Japan. He went beyond the call of duty today and locked it down."

His Japanese counterpart, Totsuka, would end his day on his 90th pitch in the bottom of the fifth, getting a strikeout of clean-up hitter Steven Kotkosky. It was his second strikeout of the frame and fifth of the outing. He would switch places with right fielder Kazuto Takakura, who toed the rubber to try to keep the West off the board.

"Totsuka was nervous but he kept us in the game," said manager Suzuki. "And Takakura, he did his best to keep his team close."

One thing that may have helped California was the weather and the effects Mother Nature had on the field. Japan found the conditions difficult to deal with, as Sunday's game started as a rain-soaked affair thanks to Hurricane Irene's path up the east coast.

"Today's conditions were difficult to get used to," said Suzuki. "If it rains in Japan like this, usually we don't play, we don't have the game. So this situation is kind of rare for us."

But the boys from Hamamatsu City, Japan have nothing to hang their heads about, and their manager welcomed them to the dugout with a smile despite the loss.

"My team is physically small, but they all did an excellent job," said Suzuki, choking up. "Everybody did just a wonderful job even to get to this stage."

2011 LLBWS West Region Champs2011 Little League Baseball World Series Champions - Ocean View Little League (West)