Little League World Series: Petaluma stays alive with thrilling victory

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Twelve- and 13-year-old boys shouldn’t have to experience this sort of high-profile pressure.
Neither should their exhausted parents.

The Petaluma National all-stars, masters of baseball drama and dedicated practitioners of the comeback, one-upped themselves Monday at the Little League World Series, knocking out the Mid-Atlantic champion 5-4 when Danny Marzo jumped on an 0-1 curveball and drove it over the right-field wall to lead off the eighth inning of an elimination game at Lamade Stadium.

Asked what he was thinking as he dug in for last at-bat, Marzo answered: “Well, Eric (Smith, coach of Petaluma National) had told me, ‘Don’t try to be the hero; just make contact.’ If you put a good swing on it, it’ll go, but you can’t be thinking walk-off home run. You have to be thinking base hit.”

Petaluma, the West regional representative, plays again at 5 p.m. PDT today against Fairfield, Conn., which Petaluma beat in the first round in South Williamsport.

Marzo’s blast was the exclamation point on yet another Petaluma squeaker. Eight of the all-stars’ past 11 games have been decided by one or two runs. Petaluma National has won seven of those, but this was the hairiest yet.

Petaluma held a 4-2 lead going into the sixth inning Monday, the last frame in regulation, only to see Par Troy East respond with a two-run rally. The team from Parsippany, N.J., got a home run from star hitter Emil Matti to lead off the sixth. Daniel Ruggiero followed with a double and scored on a bloop single by David Ton just over the head of Petaluma second baseman Porter Slate, knotting the game at 4-4.

It could have been worse.

Parsippany got a runner to third base twice after tying it at 4-4 but couldn’t bring either home. One of them didn’t last long at third; Bener Uygun slipped rounding the bag on Ton’s RBI hit, and Petaluma catcher Austin Paretti threw him out as he scrambled to get back.

To some extent, the usual suspects pulled out this victory for Petaluma National. Marzo had a similar walk-off shot against Vacaville Central in a sectional win. And Bradley Smith did his usual damage. He went 5 2/3 innings as the starting pitcher, and was 2 for 3 at the plate, lowering his World Series average to a still-robust .800.

But even more than most games, this was a true team win for Petaluma.

Smith wasn’t dominant on the mound, giving up six hits and four runs (three of them earned), and he appeared to tire a bit in the sixth. But Logan Douglas, more of a spot pitcher, was superb in relief, striking out four in 2 1/3 innings.

And it was Blake Buhrer, usually a role player for Petaluma National, who got the team’s big rally started with a leadoff single past the second baseman in the bottom of the fourth. Petaluma was down 2-0 at that point. Marzo followed Buhrer’s hit with a single of his own, bringing Bradley Smith to the plate with two on and none out.

The 6-foot-3 Smith is an imposing presence, and he has been crushing the ball lately. But the Big Cat is agile, too. He surprised Parsippany by laying down a perfect bunt and beating it out to first base. Douglas, pinch-running for Buhrer, scored when Uygun’s throw sailed past the bag.

“I’ve tried it before,” Eric Smith said of Bradley’s bunt. “I’ve called bunts that he’s missed and hit home runs, too. I was willing to take either one of those. But he’s fast. We needed stuff to happen. We were down a couple runs, so just trying to put pressure.”

Two batters later, shortstop Hance Smith knocked in two runs on a base hit between shortstop and third base, with Bradley Smith barely beating the relay throw.

Early on, the Petaluma hitters had a tough time getting anything done against Uygun. Join the club. The pitcher threw a no-hitter against Delaware to get Par Troy East to the World Series and had four strikeouts in two previous innings at South Williamsport.

Uygun had five strikeouts through three innings Monday, with the only Petaluma hit a double by Hance Smith in the second.

“He hits the strike zone,” Eric Smith said of Uygun. “His location was excellent — in, out, up, down. And his high fastball — he got several of us on that high fastball with two strikes, and just perfect location.

“It was never up enough to stay off of it. And then he had a nice curveball, too, so you couldn’t just sit fastball. But I like our chances when we see guys a couple of times.”

Afterward, Petaluma fans were ready to celebrate once again. Or perhaps just to collapse.

“I felt like the kids kind of kept their poise, honestly,” said Andrew Paretti, father of Austin Paretti and former president of Petaluma National Little League. “And even with that rally (Parsippany) made in the top half of the sixth inning, they still kept their poise. The parents are biting their fingernails off, but the kids are great.”

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.