Westport Little League stays alive in dramatic fashion
Updated 12:36 am, Saturday, August 24, 2013
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- It all started with a seemingly innocent fly out to right field.
One after another, the hits started to fall. Some barely cleared gloves, while others soared over the fence. In just minutes, the steep deficit had evaporated. And stunningly, through it all, Westport's dream summer will live on.
Just five outs from elimination at the Little League World Series Friday, Westport staged a dramatic seven-run rally, using a trio of monster home runs to send Lamade Stadium into a frenzy. Two innings later, Chad Knight laced a single into left field, lifting Westport over Sammamish, Wash. 14-13 and onto the United States championship game.
"It says a lot about the kids. They just never give up," Westport manager Tim Rogers said. "They just continue to battle, one pitch at a time."
After Westport nearly ran itself out of the seventh with a runner tagged out near home, Knight drilled a 2-2 pitch from Dylan Matsuoka over a drawn-in outfield, scoring Chris Drbal for the win.
"I was really just speechless," Knight said. "For us to just compete and battle back, it was just amazing."
Westport -- now 3-1 at the LLWS and 21-1 overall -- is the first team from Connecticut to reach the U.S. final since 1989 when Trumbull went on to win the LLWS. Westport will face Chula Vista, Calif. (3-0) on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Lamade (televised on ABC). The winner will advance to Sunday's championship game against Japan or Mexico, while the loser will play in a third-place game that day.
Westport bore the brunt of a 10-run top of the fourth from Sammamish -- one that saw one of its aces, Harry Azadian, knocked around like never before -- to stage its largest rally of the summer. Westport pieced together seven hits, including five straight, in the seven-run fifth.
Alex Reiner slammed the first of the three home runs, blasting a three-run shot to slice into the deficit, 13-9. Two more hits followed, and then, sandwiched around the second out, Max Popken drilled a three-run shot to make it 13-12.
"Our lineup is deep," Rogers said. "We have confidence with anybody -- anybody at anytime. What a day for Alex to jack his first home run."
The next batter, Knight, tied it with a shot over the fence in left-center, igniting a roar from many of the 8,616 at Lamade. The blast energized the Westport dugout, as well.
"The beginning of the inning (left fielder) Charlie Roof brought to our attention that we could come back, and that it wasn't out of reach," said shortstop Ricky Offenberg, who homered in the third to plate Westport a 3-2 lead. "We started just getting hits and hits and hits.
"When the ball was gone, we were just yelling. I don't think we were saying words. We were just excited."
Westport's rally bailed out Azadian, who was knocked around for 12 runs (10 earned) on 13 hits in 3 2/3 innings. The right-hander took a 5-2 lead into the fourth, but Washington rallied for 10 runs, stringing together seven consecutive hits at one point. Eight of those runs scored before Azadian recorded the first out.
"We got to Harry pretty hard," Sammamish manager Rob Chandler said. "That's a big-time pitcher. I don't think Harry liked that too much."
Jack Olsen's two-run triple tied it 5-5, Will Armbruester's single plated two to make it 9-5 and Olsen drove in another with a double to put Washington ahead by seven.
Popken entered in relief and stabilized the game for Westport, allowing just a run over 2 2/3 innings. The right-hander, who blew a save in a 6-3, nine-inning loss to Chula Vista on Wednesday, struck out five. Reiner chipped in to get two quick outs in the seventh, setting the stage for Westport's dramatic win.
"I've never seen Harry (get) hit like that, and yet we stuck with him because he's always managed to pull himself out of it," Rogers said. "Credit to (Washington). They just hit."
Right fielder Tatin Llamas hit the first of Westport's five home runs -- a two-run, opposite-field shot in the second inning off Dalton Chandler.
Chandler started for Washington and was charged with six runs (four earned) in 4 1/3 innings.
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Westport 14, Sammamish, Wash. 13 (7 innings)
SAMMAMISH 101 (10)10 0 -- 13 16 3
WESTPORT 023 170 1 -- 14 14 0
Home runs: W -- Tatin Llamas, Ricky Offenberg, Reiner, Popken, Knight.