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Little League: Petaluma one win away from World Series

SATURDAY’S GAME
West Regional championship
Petaluma vs. Hawaii
5 p.m., ESPN
Notable: Today’s winner advances to the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa.

By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Near victory by the mercy rule, up 10-0, Petaluma got nervous and sloppy in its West Regional Little League semifinal game Friday night in San Bernardino.

But the team of 13 Petaluma boys held it together, winning 10-4 to advance to Saturday’s regional title game against Hawaii.

At stake is a trip to South Williamsport, Pa., and the Little League World Series. Hawaii beat Arizona, 6-5, in the other semifinal game earlier Friday. The championship game begins at 5 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN.

Just three outs away from winning after four innings by Little League fairness rules, Petaluma got mental, manager Eric Smith acknowledged.

“We got anxious. We saw the victory and we got overanticipatory,” he said. “We got a little too excited too soon.

“We talked about that, and that will correct itself.”

Petaluma, the only undefeated team in the regional, took control of the game early, scoring one run in the first inning and pounding out another six in the second that began with a Logan Douglas grounder to left field that scored Dylan Moore and Cole Tomei.

Back-to-back home runs by pitcher Danny Marzo and outfielder Bradley Smith put Petaluma up 7-0.

A contingent of Petaluma fans wearing red on the first-base line began to chant “Big Cat, Big Cat,” Bradley Smith’s nickname.

Another run in the third and two in the fourth put Petaluma up 10-0. In Little League, rules call the game if one team is up by 10 runs or more after four innings.

But the Cheyenne, Wyo., team, winners from the Nevada region, eked out a run on two hits, a walk and a hit batter in the fourth to survive.

After allowing just two hits through three innings, pitcher Marzo said he was trying to do too much as the victory seemed within reach in the bottom of the fourth.

Following a leadoff single in the fourth by Jesse Fonteboa, Marzo walked the next batter and a wild pitch allowed the runners to advance to second and third with one out.

A hard grounder to shortstop by Nevada starting pitcher Rick Guzman allowed Fonteboa to score and kept Nevada’s hopes alive, 10-1.

“I got a little frustrated,” he said. “But Eric told me to look at the score. It’s not 10-9, it’s 10-1. In the last inning it felt a little bit closer.”

Marzo came out when he hit the count limit, throwing 82 pitches.

Bradley Smith said his home run over the right-field fence, which occupied the fifth spot on SportsCenter's Top 10 plays Friday night, came on a fastball.

“I’ve been in a big slump for a while,” he said. “So it’s a boost of confidence.”

Nevada scored another run in the fifth and two in the sixth on poor Petaluma defense and wild pitching.

Petaluma made five errors in the game, including two plays on which two errors each were called.

“We played better when it was 2-1 in previous games than we did when it was 10-1,” Eric Smith said. “We got the jitters.”

He said his players were trying to “make the great play” instead of sacrificing a run for an out.

“We’ll focus on that: gotta get outs, gotta get outs,” he said.

The title game is a matchup of both teams’ first game of the regionals on Aug. 3. Petaluma won that game, 11-9.

With Petaluma’s undefeated record, Bradley Smith said the pressure will be on Hawaii.

“We have more confidence because we beat them the first time around,” he said.

The teams have become friends during the week, which Coach Smith said was appropriate.

“It’ll be friendly and fun,” he said. “That’s the way it should be for them.”

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.