Drbal is Westport's high-energy guy

When Westport wrapped up its first practice in June, Chris Drbal returned home with the same dream that most Little Leaguers have.

"I told my parents the first practice when I got home, I said, `We look really good. I think we can make it to the Little League World Series,' " he said Monday.

Unlike most Little Leaguers around the world, the 13-year-old was lucky enough to see his dream come true.

On Sunday, Westport won its second straight game at the LLWS, edging Sammamish, Wash., 9-7 to advance to the United States semifinals. And as confident as Drbal once was about his team's prospects of reaching South Williamsport, Pa., it's something that even he still has trouble grasping.

"We're here, it's just hard to believe," he said. "It isn't digesting in our minds. It's just so amazing. It's almost like, you can't think about it."

After winning its first 20 games dating to the start of districts, Westport was one of only two teams at the LLWS without a loss this summer (Tokyo was 12-0). Particularly key to the sustained success has been Drbal, the team's table setter atop the lineup.

After batting .385 in the New England regional with five runs scored, Drbal's been the prototypical leadoff hitter at the LLWS. He's worked pitch counts, recorded a .400 on-base percentage and is the team's sparkplug on the basepaths.

With pitch counts strictly regulated by LL -- pitchers are required to rest a certain number of days depending on the number -- prolonging at-bats can put pressure on opposing pitching staffs.

"I try my best to work the count and get him a lot of pitches early on, so they go to their (No. 2) pitcher," he said.

Against Nashville, Tenn., in last Thursday night's opener, Drbal singled in a nine-pitch at-bat in the fifth inning. He later advanced to second on a passed ball, then scored the winning run on Chad Knight's single in a 3-2 victory to open the LLWS.

"He definitely is a tough out," Westport manager Tim Rogers said. "There's no question about that. He definitely battles. ... At a minimum, he gives the other guys an opportunity to see the pitcher for a few pitches."

The 5-foot-2 speedster has been a threat on the basepaths. He's often been Westport's go-to guy when a special pinch runner is needed.

"He's just a great baserunner. He's aggressive on the bases," said Harry Azadian, who homered and drove in five runs on Sunday. "He's very consistent batting. Usually we score Chris."

"If there's a passed ball -- or not even, like it goes in front of the catcher -- I would try and take the extra base," Drbal added.

A natural middle infielder, Drbal has been relegated to first base most of this summer because of an injury to his right throwing arm. Although the injury's prevented him from playing a full six innings at times, it hasn't tempered his energy or athleticism.

"He's very athletic, he's fast and he's very instinctive," said Rogers, referring to Drbal as one of the team's top two athletes, along with shortstop Ricky Offenberg.

Drbal's father, John, said that energy is nothing new.

"He was our golden retriever," John said, recalling Chris' childhood. "He always wanted me to throw balls so he could dive for them."

Now John is seeing his son's lifelong dream play out on the greatest stage.

"It's fantasy. It's a once-in-a-lieftime opportunity," John said. "It's something every little kid dreams about. It's `pinch me, we're here.' "

Dbonjour@scni.com; 203-255-4561 ext 114; twitter.com/DougBonjour