SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — After Mexico defeated Connecticut by a run in the Little League World Series consolation game, the teams shook hands and departed, sad they hadn’t made it another game but satisfied with what they achieved.
“We’ll reflect on this for sure,” said Tim Rogers, manager of Westport, Conn. “I could not be more proud of the kids. They proved that they belong here, playing baseball right at the top of the world. Look how competitive they are. For them to stick with it, work, work, work, that’s more important.”
Brandon Montes, Ramon Mendoza, Saul Favela, and Miguel Artalejo hit home runs for Mexico, which beat Connecticut 15-14. Mexico’s World Series run ended with a 3-2 loss Saturday to Japan for the international title.
Chad Knight slammed two home runs and drove in seven runs in the game, which featured a World Series-record nine home runs. Harry Azadian had a three-run homer and Matt Brown and Matt Stone had solo shots for Connecticut, which lost 12-1 to Chula Vista, Calif., in the U.S. title game on Saturday.
Connecticut fell behind 11-6 heading to the fifth inning after Favela’s home run keyed a three-run Mexico rally in the fourth.
Undaunted as they had been the entire tournament, the New England champions promptly scored five runs in the top of the fifth to tie it, with Azadian hitting a three-run homer and Stone following with his homer.
“They don’t give up,” said Rogers, who didn’t know how he would adjust once he returned home. “Sure, we would have liked to have won, but the way they battled, we’re feeling good.”
The game ended an emotion-packed week for both teams, but they put on a real show in their final act.
“All the people in Tijuana should be proud,” Mexico Manager Francisco Fimbres said. “This is the first time for the league here at the World Series. I’m very proud of my kids.”
And why not.
Mexico overcame two losses to Japan and finished third in the world.
“It’s exciting because a lot of teams in the world wish they could be here,” Martin Gonzalez said. “Third place for us is pretty amazing.”
Mexico won this one with four runs in the bottom of the fifth, keyed by Artalejo’s three-run homer. It was just enough because Knight hit a three-run shot with two outs in the top of the sixth.
Fimbres had to play the role of father before the game as Montes began crying during warm-ups, his base-running blunder against Japan on Saturday too hard to forget.
“Yesterday, he was very sad,” Fimbres said. “It’s a hard thing to come back from. It’s hard for him to come back that fast, but he’s doing better now. Yesterday, he felt guilty, but he bounced back. He’s one of the greatest players that we saw.”
Montes slammed his fifth homer of the World Series, a drive that easily carried the center-field wall in the second inning against Connecticut. He’s the fifth player in Little League World Series history to hit five home runs. The record is seven, set in 1996 by Chin-Hsiung Hsieh of Taiwan.
Both teams departed Lamade Stadium with memories that surely will last a lifetime.
Torched for 10 runs in an inning by Sammamish, Wash., on Friday, Connecticut rallied with seven runs an inning later, tying it at 13 on Knight’s home run. Max Popken, Ricky Offenberg, Alex Reiner, and Tatin Llamas also homered in a riveting 14-13 victory, won by Knight with a single in the seventh inning.
The Connecticut players can only imagine what might have been – they had a chance to beat eventual U.S. champion Chula Vista, Calif., on Wednesday night and failed.
Brown hit a three-run homer for Westport, and the Northeast champions seemed headed for a big victory. But California’s Nick Mora hit his second homer of the game to make it 3-2 with one out in the top of the sixth and Chula Vista tied it when Reiner threw a wild pitch with the bases loaded. Chula Vista won 6-3 on Grant Holman’s three-run homer in the ninth inning.
There’s a parade back home in Connecticut on Monday and school beckons on Tuesday.
Time to move on.
“It’ll be hard. It’ll be a little rocky, but we’ll figure it out,” Rogers said. “I knew that we were a good team and had a chance to have a good summer. To get here to compete, that’s amazing.”
Mexico had its moments, too, beating its first two opponents handily with a barrage of home runs. But Tijuana couldn’t overcome the efficient Tokyo team, losing 5-2 on Wednesday and 3-2 in the heart-wrenching international championship game on Saturday.
With the score tied at 2, Montes had led off the bottom of the fifth for Mexico with a double down the left-field line and was at third with one out when Favela hit a high fly to deep center. Montes took a few steps toward home, stopped, and didn’t have time to go back and tag up. He was stranded at third when Brandon Meza struck out.
When Takuma Gomi led off the top of the sixth inning with a game-winning home run, Tijuana, too, was left to wonder what might have been.