The United States semifinal began as a duel between two of the most electric pitchers at the Little League World Series.
A little more than three hours after the first pitch, one of those aces essentially ended the game.
Grant Holman slugged a three-run home run with one out in the ninth inning to propel Chula Vista, Calif. past Westport 6-3 on Wednesday before 21,763 at Lamade Stadium.
"I was just thinking, `Hit a line drive up the middle and make contact,'" Holman said. "All I had to do was bring the runs in."
In the process, Westport was handed its first loss of the summer -- 2-1 at the LLWS and 20-1 overall -- and falls into Thursday's elimination game against Sammamish, Wash. at Lamade at 8 p.m. The winner of that game will meet Chula Vista (3-0, 21-1) in the U.S. title game on Saturday.
"It's disappopinting of course to lose. It's painful to be so close to winning and lose," Westport manager Tim Rogers said. "But obviously they're a real talented team. There's no holes in their lineup."
Rennard Williams earned the win out of the bullpen, tossing 2 1/3 shutout innings. Chula Vista's relievers combined to allow just three hits and struck out seven over 5 1/3.
Chula Vista second baseman Micah Pietila-Wiggs singled with one out in the ninth and center fielder Jake Espinoza followed with a double to bring up the 6-foot-4 Holman. The righty, who started on the mound (10 strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings), slammed a ball over the fence in right-center off Alex Reiner, all but squashing Westport's hopes for the night.
Westport led 3-1 with one out in the sixth with Harry Azadian on the mound, before Chula Vista shortstop Nick Mora slugged his second solo homer of the night.
"When they were pitching the ball, I kind of read the ball out of their hands," Mora said. "Two of the home runs I had were off of curveballs."
Azadian, who earned wins in Westport's first two LLWS games, was immediately pulled after 20 pitches, keeping him available for, at the time, a potential appearance Thursday. Although the move ultimately backfired, with Chula Vista rallying for two runs, Rogers didn't regret his decision.
If Azadian exceeded 21 pitches, he would've needed one day of rest by LL rules. Chad Knight, who started for Westport and threw 53 pitches, cannot return until Saturday.
"You're one run away and we would've really second-guessed ourselves if somebody else got into one and tied it, "Rogers said, "and we would've blown Harry for tomorrow. That would've been a bad decision.
"We were willing to roll the dice."
The move, however, did catch Chula Vista manager Rick Tibbett by surprise.
"I figured they'd go for the throat and try to put us into the loser's bracket, instead of wanting to take the chance," he said.
Right-hander Max Popken entered in his first LLWS pitching appearance for a save attempt, but walked three straight batters in the sixth. He was replaced by Reiner, who allowed the tying run to score on a wild pitch, but avoided further damage.
Westport trailed 1-0 in the fourth before Matthew Brown's pinch-hit three-run homer off Holman. That was just the second hit of the night for Westport off the flamethrower, who tossed a seven-inning no-hitter in his first LLWS start last Friday. He retired the first eight batters he faced, including seven by strikeout.
Knight earned a no-decision for Westport, holding California to just three hits and one run in 4 1/3 innings. He struck out nine.
With Westport now facing elimination, Thursday's game will be Azadian's to lose. The right-hander pitched 3 1/3 innings, allowing two runs, in a 9-7 win over Washington last Sunday.
"That's Harry's game," Rogers said. "I can't see a scenario, unless we get up 20-0, where Harry doesn't get the lion's share of the game."
Dbonjour@scni.com; 203-255-4561 ext 114; twitter.com/DougBonjour
Chula Vista, Calif. 6, Westport 3
CHULA VISTA 000 102 003 -- 6 9 0
WESTPORT 000 300 000 -- 3 5 1
Batteries: CV -- Grant Holman, Giancarlo Cortez (4), Ricky Tibbett (5), Rennard Williams (7, W) and Patrick Archer. W -- Chad Knight, Harry Azadian (5), Max Popken (6), Alex Reiner (6, L) and Matt Stone.
Home runs: CV -- Nick Mora 2, Holman. W -- Matthew Brown.