By RICK SMITH
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
SAN BERNARDINO — Sailing along with a 5-2 lead, Petaluma National coach Eric Smith was forced to make a pitching change at the start of the fourth inning when starter Bradley Smith reached a 50-pitch limit.
From there it was a dizzying swirl of pitching and hitting switches, plus some wild pitches and passed balls. In the end, Petaluma emerged with an 11-9 victory over Hawaii, and a date to play Arizona at 11:30 this morning at Chuck Houghton Stadium.
The Northern California champions were in control of this first game in the round-robin, Western Regional Little League championship.
They led 5-2 after three innings, propelled in part by Logan Douglas’ home run to lead off a four-run third inning. Douglas said he hit a curve ball thrown by Hawaii’s Danson Oliva. “It hung out there a little bit,” said Douglas, who admitted he “sat on” the curve ball.
A home run in the biggest game, yet, of the season — how did it feel? “Amazing,” smiled Douglas.
“We expected this would be tough,” said Smith. “We knew Hawaii would be aggressive.
“We wanted to put the ball in play, keep the pressure on, make them make a play,” said Smith.
With Little League rules limiting the number of throws per pitcher, Smith had to play not only with yesterday’s game in mind but the three others Petaluma will play here.
“There are three of us keeping an eye on the pitch count,” said the coach. “It’s not easy. We also keep an eye on the scoreboard.”
Bradley Smith had six strikeouts in three innings but an error led to two Hawaii runs. Petaluma came back with four runs for a 5-2 lead after three.
Coach Smith inserted Danny Marzo as his pitcher in the fourth, brought in Douglas, then followed with Andrew White.
Hawaii was leading 6-5 when the fourth inning concluded. Petaluma did not look healthy when it was retired 1-2-3 in its half of the fourth.
Singles by Bradley Smith and Hance Smith got the Northern Californians going in the fifth. Two Hawaii errors and singles by James O’Hanlon, Cole Tomei, Porter Slate, and Bradley Smith, the 10th man to come to the plate in the inning, brought in five runs and the victory.
The Hawaiians went quietly in the sixth.
“We’re pretty good, one through 13, when all of them contribute, like they did today,” said the winning coach, who hurried off for the tournament’s opening ceremony with an eye on today.