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Little League World Series: Petaluma blasts Texas, advances to U.S. championship

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — During the telecast of Petaluma National’s elimination game against McAllistar Park National of San Antonio, ESPN2 flashed a screen shot of Google Earth as it zoomed down on Petaluma, somewhere in all that bumpy green between the Pacific and the Central Valley.

Thirteen happy-go-lucky Little Leaguers are truly putting their city on the map.

The Petaluma all-stars tried a different approach Thursday. After a series of close, tense wins, they won going away against the Southwest representative, scoring six runs in the first inning and breezing to an 11-1 victory that was called after five innings because of the 10-run “mercy” rule.

Petaluma National, which had to play out of the losers’ bracket in two previous tournaments and won the West region on a controversial appeal play, now stands one win away from the United States Little League championship. Roll that one around on your tongue for a while.

After the lopsided win against a talented San Antonio team, on the heels of a 5-0 victory over Fairfield, Conn., manager Eric Smith has no reason to doubt his team.

“This may be the best two games they’ve played in 26 games,” he said. “If we can keep that going, then that’s great.”

Thursday’s game was never close. Texas starter Seth Morrow walked three of the first four batters he faced. One of them scored on a wild pitch. Then shortstop Hance Smith once again delivered the big blow for Petaluma, a grand slam that cleared the center-field fence.

Hance, Eric Smith’s son, previously hit a two-run single against Parsippany, N.J., on Monday and a three-run homer against Fairfield on Tuesday. He was 0 for 5 in Petaluma’s first two World Series game, but has been nearly unstoppable since.

“Definitely more confident,” Hance Smith said. “I’ve been getting my hands out away from my body, so with that thought in my head I go up to the plate and swing confidently, and it’s been working out so far.”

So has the bat Smith borrowed from teammate Andrew White earlier this week. “I don’t think that kid’s gonna get it back,” Eric Smith said.

Quinton Gago, the hero of Tuesday’s win, immediately followed Hance Smith’s grand slam with a solo homer of his own, making it 6-0 Petaluma after a single inning. San Antonio cut into the gap on Jordan Cardenas’ long ball in the top of the third, but Smith answered with another home run in the bottom of the inning to make the score 7-1.

That was more than enough for Petaluma National pitcher Danny Marzo, who struck out 11 batters in five innings, yielding just two hits and one walk. Marzo kept the Texas team off-balance all night with a combination of high fastballs and pitches that nibbled the outside corner.

“A lot of times in the first inning, I have a lot of adrenaline,” Marzo said. “So one of our coaches, Mike Slate, said, ‘Think second inning to seventh inning instead of first to second.’ After the first inning, I usually settle down.”

Marzo got smacked in the butt by the catcher’s throw while sliding into second base in the second inning, but it clearly didn’t affect his performance.

“It hurt, but not enough to come out,” he said.

Petaluma put the game away with a perfect display of team balance: seven straight singles that scored four runs in the fifth inning. Runners scored on hits by Gago, James O’Hanlon and Logan Douglas, who ended the game by bringing home pinch runner Dylan Moore with a drive that skipped to the right-field wall.

“We ran up against a great team,” San Antonio coach Jack Wideman said. “The kids could hit, knew it, (were) into the game tonight. And they’re just a really good team. I mean, one through nine, one through 12, whatever they got, every one of them puts the ball in play. We were hitting our spots tonight, but they were smashing the ball.”

Standing between the Petaluma all-stars and the U.S. title is the only team that has beaten them here — Southeast champion Goodlettsville, Tenn., which remains undefeated. The showdown is Saturday at 12:30p.m. (PDT), and will be televised on ABC.

That gives the Petaluma parents a day and a half to bring their blood pressure to near-normal and absorb the idea that their plucky kids are on the verge of a historic national title.

“Just a miracle,” said Andrew Paretti, father of Austin. “Now I know what the Olympic dads would think if their kids are winning like that.”

The world championship game is Sunday at noon — but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. One-game-at-a-time has gotten this team pretty far.

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