BANGOR, Maine—A remarkable run by Lemon Grove ended one victory short of the ultimate goal Saturday as the Juvenil de Guatemala Little League of Guatemala City edged out the U.S. West champions 6-3 in the title game of the Senior League World Series.
“This is the biggest thing Guatemala has ever achieved in any sport,” said Guatemala manager Angel Hoyos. “We’re just very happy to make it to this level and be able to win at this level. These guys have put in a lot of work to get here, and they deserve it.”
And while the victory was expected to set off a celebration in the Guatemalan capital city, a parade also is in the works for the Lemon Grove team, which survived several qualifying tournaments before winning its regional championship, and with that the chance to compete for the world title for 15- and 16-year-old Little League baseball
“It was a great run,” aid Lemon Grove manager Andre Simpson. “I just gave every kid a hug and a kiss on the cheek after the game and told them I love them, because we’re never doing this again. This is the last time.”
Lemon Grove’s run was made all the more challenging because the team lost one game in each of its qualifying tournaments, right through the U.S. West championships when they avenged a loss to 2011 SLWS champion Hilo, HI, with a 6-0 victory in the title game.
“They’re hurt right now because they all started together from tee-ball up and this is the last time they’re going to play together. It’s tough because of all the battling we did—we lost one game in every tournament before we got here but we still got here,” said Simpson.
“It’s a great, great honor to be here, and I hope the new generation can fight to get here.”
Guatemala relied on the same combination of pitching and defense that had yielded just nine runs in its previous 10 games to become the fourth different Latin America country to win the SLWS title since it was moved to Bangor in 2002, joining Curacao (2002), Venezuela (2006) and Aruba (2010).
Righthander Alejandro Amezquita earned the pitching win, getting double-play help in each of the first two innings before settling down to hold Lemon Grove to one run on three hits before leaving the game in the sixth.
“I had to adjust my mechanics, but the biggest thing was concentration,” he said. “I started to lose concentration but finally I collected my thoughts, got my concentration down and kept going.”
Amezquita escaped a two on, one-out jam in the bottom of the first by inducing Deandre Simpson to hit a sharp grounder that Valls at third base turned into an inning-ending 5-3 double play.
Lemon Grove did take a 1-0 lead an inning later. Frankie Nunez drew a one-out walk and Derrick Clark doubled to right-center before Brandon Weed was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Dominik Sawyer singled up the middle to drive home Nunez, but that was it for Lemon Grove as Brad Moreno flied out and when Werner’s throw in from right field went wide of the plate, Clark got caught in a rundown between third base and home and was tagged out.
That lost opportunity proved costly for the Californians, as Guatemala immediately countered with a three-run rally in the top of the third.
Esteves drew a leadoff walk and went to second on a single to right by Vizcaino. Juan Diego Montes singled down the right-field line to drive home Esteves with the tying run, then Alvarado followed a walk to Valls with a ground single to left that drove home Vizcaino and Montes to give the Latin American champs a 3-1 lead.
“We didn’t take advantage of the opportunities they gave us,” said Lemon Grove coach Frank Nunez, “and they took advantage of the opportunities we gave them. Before the game we told the kids we needed to play perfect baseball to win this game and we didn’t play perfect baseball.”
But while Amezquita settled down and maintained a low pitch count, Simpson’s 36-pitch third inning led to him having to leave the mound with two outs in the fifth when he reached the 95-pitch limit, and Guatemala broke the game open against Moreno in the sixth.
Alvarado’s speed produced the first run as he singled to center, went to second on a slow chopper by Guillermo Saenz, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a passed ball.
Two walks around a single to left by Werner then loaded the bases before back-to-back walks to Gabriel Montenegro and Vizcaino forced home two more runs to make it a 6-1 game.
Amezquita was taken out of the game after yielding a leadoff single to Ray Peterson in the bottom of the sixth having thrown just 62 pitches.
Simpson then drew a walk off Valls and Nunez drove both runners home by pulling a two-run double down the right-field line to cut the adeficit to 6-3.