SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – The Dixie Little Leaguers flipped the script on Friday night.
Earlier this week, Dixie LL, representing the state of Utah, jumped out to a 5-0 lead on Hawaii. But the Pacific islanders scored 14 unanswered runs and sent Dixie to the elimination bracket in that 14-5 victory.
Friday, the shoe was on the other foot. Hawaii jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first two innings, only to see Utah score 12 unanswered runs and take a 12-6 victory, eliminating the Hawaiians in the process.
Parker Andrus hit the game-tying, two-run homer in the fourth inning and Seth Wells singled home Kyler Terry with the go-ahead run as Dixie captured its third straight loser-out game with Friday’s triumph.
The southern Utah boys will face Southern California in a winner-takes-all game Saturday at 6 p.m. (PST). SoCal is the defending West Region champ, though the team from Chula Vista, Calif., failed to qualify this season. Instead, it is the team from Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., that is representing SoCal.
Things looked bleak early for Dixie Little League Friday. Counting the 14-unanswered runs from earlier this week and the six scored in the first two innings Friday, Hawaii had reeled off 20 consecutive runs on Utah. No one would have blamed the Utah boys if they’d folded up the tents and headed for home after a wild pitch brought home the sixth run of the game for the Hawaiians.
But Kean Webb managed to retire the side with a couple of strikeouts in the bottom of the second, one looking and the other swinging, and suddenly the tide started to turn.
Matt McArthur led off the top of the third with a single to center and Andrus followed with a walk. The next batter, Terry, ripped one to left field that scored McArthur and made it 6-1. Back-to-back wild pitches scored pinch runner Jakobe Hofer to make it 6-2 and Terry scooted on over to third.
Wells walked, then Webb helped his own cause with a deep ground ball to second base that scored Terry and made it 6-3. One out later, it was a 6-4 game when Tayven Mortensen stroked a single to center that brought home Wells.
Webb also started to catch fire on the mound. Down 6-4 in the bottom of the third, Webb gave up a leadoff double, then retired three straight Hawaii players to keep the deficit at just two runs. That was huge because Dixie had another rally coming. And it happened quickly.
McArthur took a scary ball off the helmet to lead off the fourth. He was fine, but that put the tying run at the plate in Andrus. The son of former Dixie High star Nate Andrus didn’t waste any time. After taking a pitch out of the strike zone, Andrus blasted the next pitch high into the San Bernardino night and deep over the left field fence. The two-run homer tied the game at 6-6.
The next batter, Terry, ripped one deep to right for a double. Wells then looped a single to center that scored Terry and gave Utah its first lead of the game at 7-6. Moments later, Webb struck again, doubling home Wells and making it an 8-6 Dixie lead.
But the team from southern Utah has learned one thing about the West Regional: No lead is safe.
After Webb sent Hawaii down with three strikeouts in the bottom of the fourth, Dixie LL rallied again. Jaxon Barben led off the fifth with a single and the lefty McArthur followed that with a home run to right field to make it 10-6.
Following the dinger, Andrus singled and Terry walked to put two men on with no outs. Ty Maynard then made it 11-6 with an RBI single to center that brought home Andrus. Webb followed with yet another RBI on a hit to left that brought home Terry and made it 12-8.
Webb then allowed just two hits the final two innings to help his team advance to Saturday’s championship game.
What a day it was for Webb, who 2 for 3 from the plate with three RBIs and a walk, plus pitched five innings of relief, allowing just four hits and one run. He struck out nine batters.
Other hitting stars for Dixie were McArthur, Andrus, Terry and Mortensen, who all had two hits each. McArthur and Andrus were both on base four times in the game.
Dixie is 3-1 in the Little League West Regional and is averaging 9.5 runs per game.
The Santa Margarita Little League team is 3-0 this week at the West Regional, having defeated Nevada 7-2, beaten Northern California 3-2 and knocked off Hawaii 12-8.
The two teams are the only ones remaining in the Regional, with a trip to Williamsport, Pa., and the Little League World Series on the line Saturday night.
Last year’s LLWS champion was Maine-Endwell Little League from Endwell, N.Y., which defeated a team from Seoul, South Korea in the championship by a score of 2-1.
SoCal will be playing Saturday without manager and coach C.J. Ankrum Saturday. Ankrum was suspended by the Little League International Committee Friday after it was determined he used profanity in the team’s nationally broadcast (ESPN) win over Hawaii on Thursday night.
In the official statement released by Little League on Friday, Ankrum “used inappropriate language that was seen and heard.”
The committee issued a one-game suspension. Santa Margarita assistant coaches Joe Rutter and Rich Gray will lead the Southern California team Saturday night.
If they complete the win Saturday, Santa Margarita would be the eighth Orange County team to win the West Regional and advance to the Little League World Series, which is played in South Williamsport, Pa. The Orange County team has won 15 games in a row.
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