The Pacific Little League All-Stars scratched and clawed their way to a critical victory Saturday afternoon at the Little League World Series.
Colton Walsh smacked a go-ahead 2-run home run in the top of the fourth inning and a Rapid City of South Dakota runner was ruled out on a controversial running out of the base paths call to end the game as Pacific pulled out a 7-5 victory at Lamade Stadium in Williamsport, Penn.
“It’s a great feeling to get a win. It feels absolutely amazing,” said Pacific manager Robley Corsi Jr. said. “We hope to get at least a couple more. We’re going to keep it going and have some fun with it.”
Pacific takes on the loser of the Texas-Pennsylvania game at noon, Monday, Aug. 18. The game will be broadcast on ESPN. The victory in Saturday’s elimination game means that Pacific remains in contention for the Little League World Series title.
Walsh’s mammoth home run was the fourth and final lead change of the contest and could not have come at a better time.
“He had been struggling at the plate,” Corsi Jr. said. “It was nice to see him break out today. … he hit that a ton. It was a great spark. It was at the right time.”
Pacific was coming off a tough 12-2 loss to Illinois and Corsi Jr. knew that rebounding from a loss wasn’t going to be easy. The last loss for Pacific was to Federal Way in a second round game at the state tournament.
“Anytime you lose … the hardest game to win is that next game,” Corsi Jr. said. “It’s tough to do. Once you get over that you hope to get that train rolling again.”
Pacific had the opportunity to choose to be either the home or visiting team. Corsi Jr. chose to be visitors and the decision paid off as his team put a pair of runs on the scoreboard in the first inning.
Leadoff hitter Matthew Turcotte got on with an infield single and Walsh beat out an infield throw. Another infield single by Logan Kruse loaded the bases and following back-to-back strikeouts, Ben Grant hit a hard grounder that the second baseman was unable to field and both Turcotte and Walsh scored. Grant, however, was thrown out a first to end the inning.
Pacific was unable to sustain the advantage as a walk and single set the stage for a 3-run home run by Matthew Hegre and South Dakota went up 3-2.
Karsen Tjarneberg helped Pacific retake a 4-3 lead in the third inning when he hit a single to left field to drive in Tygan Duncan and Tyler Durbin, who had reached base on an error and a single, respectively.
Then it was South Dakota’s turn to respond and Daniel Vigoren obliged with a 2-run double to help his team take a 5-4 advantage.
With one out in the fourth, Robley Corsi III singled to right field and then after a strikeout, Walsh launched a home run on a 3-2 count to give Pacific a 6-5 lead.
Pacific pushed across an insurance run in the fifth inning. Tjarneberg singled to center field with one out. Following another strikeout, Michael rushed to the plate after running in from the bullpen where he was warming up.
“He got a late start. He was supposed to come in,” Corsi Jr. said. “We told him to hurry up. It might have been a blessing in disguise. He didn’t have any time to think about it.”
With the count 0-2, Michael stroked a single to center field to drive in Tjarneberg.
“Rather than swing it hard, he just tried to put the ball in play,” Corsi Jr. said. “It was great.”
Tai Starchman pitched 3 1/3 innings before yielding to Tjarneberg, who threw through the fifth inning. When Corsi Jr. visited his pitcher on the mound, Starchman indicted his arm felt tired, so Pacific’s manager made the switch. Corsi Jr. expects and receives honest answers from his players.
“That’s what we. We are a team,” Corsi Jr. said “He (Starchman) knows the next guy coming in is going to do the job. So we bring in the next guy.”
Michael took the mound in the sixth and retired the first batter before Bridger Nesbit hit a single to center field. Michael then struck out the next batter before Hegre followed with a single to left field to bring the potential winning run to the plate.
Dylan Richey then hit a single to center field and it appeared Nesbit would be able to score easily but he stumbled and fell on his way to home plate. As he scrambled to his feet, Nesbit took a wide turn to the right to avoid catcher Corsi III, who was waiting for the ball.
The home plate umpire called Nesbit out for running out of the base paths. The South Dakota manager protested and following a conference with all the umpires the ruling stood. Little League officials indicated that it was an umpire’s judgment call and those calls are not reviewable under instant replay.
“That Midwest team was one tough club,” Corsi Jr. said “They were a great ball club. It’s hard to see a game end like that.”
Pacific’s magical postseason run continues on Monday and Corsi Jr. and his players want to keep it going.
“The idea is that we want to keep playing,” Corsi Jr. said. “We don’t want this thing to end. We’re not going to get too high. The hard part is that every game that we’ve had has been like this. We’re getting used to it. I’m getting some grey hair. My beard is getting greyer every game. We’ll just keep it rolling.”
– By David Pan