Threatened with elimination three times this week in the Little League World Series, Petaluma National Little League made it to the U.S. Championship game after a 11-1 blowout of Texas on Thursday night in South Williamsport, Pa.
“The boys really hit the ball well today,” Petaluma manager Eric Smith said. “Timely hitting was really important for us.”
Petaluma will play Tennessee in the U.S. Championship game on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. while Japan will play Latin America in the International Championship at 9:30 a.m. The winners Saturday will play in the Little League World Series Championship on Sunday while the losers will play in the consolation game.
It only took Petaluma two big hits to score six runs in the first inning Thursday. After Texas starting pitcher Seth Morrow walked the bases loaded, Porter Slate scored on a wild pitch to put Petaluma up 1-0. Kempton Brandis struck out but reached first base on a wild pitch. Hance Smith, Eric's son, then cleared the bases with a grand slam and Quinton Gago followed him with a solo home run to but Petaluma up 6-0 after the first. Smith homered again in the fourth inning, blasting a solo shot to pad Petaluma’s lead to 7-1 after four.
"As a dad its great to see your kid do that," Eric said. "As the coach or manager it was great time to get a big hit."
The six runs were plenty for Petaluma starter Danny Marzo, who allowed just two hits, one walk and struck out 11 in five innings.
"He was just throwing really well," Eric said. "He kept them off balance really well."
Petaluma scored four runs in the bottom of the fifth to enforce the 10-run mercy rule. Brandis and Smith singled with one out. Gago would single in Austin Paretti (who ran for Brandis) and Smith would score on a passed ball. James O’Hanlon’s single scored Bradley Smith and Logan Douglas would single in Dylan Moore to end the game.
Eric feels that his team has played their best ball in their past two games, but he doesn't feel they'll get too nervous before Saturday's big game.
"I want them to go out there and continute to have fun," Smith said. "I think they have a real good focus. A lot of my focus is on how well they’re playing not how the other team is."
The last time Eric recalls his team getting jitterish was against Nevada in Regionals when the team pulled ahead to a 10-0 lead, and he didn't see them do that today.
"I’m impressed with the approach they are able to take," Eric said. "It’s good to be 12. They either don’t know or don’t care. I don’t know which it is."