Westport defeats Nashville, Tenn., in LLWS

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- With one swing, shortstop Ricky Offenberg rescued Westport Little League from the brink of the loser's bracket.

Just four batters later, Chad Knight put the New England champions in the driver's seat.

Behind a two-run fifth inning powered by a pair of extra-base hits, Westport rallied in its Little League World Series opener. Knight's two-out double to the left-center gap propelled Westport past Southeast champion Nashville, Tenn., 3-2 on Thursday before 9,200 at Lamade Stadium.

"We got down, but we've been in tough spots several times this year. The kids always find a way to battle back," Westport manager Tim Rogers said.

Westport trailed no later than the third inning in its 18 previous wins this summer, but found itself down 2-1 with just six outs left against Tennessee. Leading off the bottom of the fifth, Offenberg, the No. 8 hitter, smashed a pitch to dead center field off left-hander Tanner Morgan to knot the game 2-2.

Offenberg had homered just once before -- a tie-breaking solo shot in a 5-3 win against Orange in the Sectional 1 Tournament on July 20 -- and didn't quite know if his blast would clear the fence that stood 225 feet from home.

"That was my only one the whole year, so when I think I hit one out, I almost don't believe it's going to go out because I don't do it a lot," Offenberg said.

With its first LLWS win in its 62-year history, Westport advances to the winner's bracket, where it will face Sammamish, Wash., on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Lamade Stadium. Washington, the Northwest champion, advanced with an 8-4 win over Corpus Christi, Texas, of the Southwest region earlier on Thursday.

Tennessee will play an elimination game against Texas on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Lamade.

"Every tournament we've played, we've lost the first game," said Tennessee manager Chris Mercado, whose team is now 15-4 on the summer. "Our team doesn't like to lose, but with our back against the wall ... we'll see if there's one more miracle in there for us."

Knight's extra-base hit off Tennessee reliever Trae McLemore plated Chris Drbal, who had worked a nine-pitch at-bat to produce a one-out single. The first baseman advanced to second on a passed ball, then scored standing on the two-out hit.

"That was one of the best at-bats I've seen in such a tough spot," Rogers said. "He just kept battling and battling and battling, and then he drove it. ... That's vintage Chris Drbal right there."

On the mound, Westport also saw the vintage Knight. The right-hander, whose one-hit shutout of Lincoln, R.I., propelled Westport to the regional title on Saturday, was dominant again from the start. With command of both his overpowering fastball and a biting curveball, he struck out eight, walked none and allowed a single run in 4 1/3 innings.

"He had us mixed up," Mercado said. "He was just a really good pitcher."

Departing after 68 pitches, Knight was replaced by Harry Azadian, who was greeted with a solo homer by Ben Pickman to put the Southeast champion up 2-1.

"The home run, I hung a pitch," Azadian said. "And it was a mistake. He's a hell of a hitter."

Azadian rebounded, retiring the final five batters to earn the win.

After falling behind 2-1, Westport had just six outs left and had already given away two on the basepaths earlier. In both the first and fourth innings, the New England champions had runners thrown out at home. Rogers requested replays for both, but ultimately lost the challenges.

"Both times there were two outs, and both times were bang-bang," Rogers said. "You've got to give them all the credit. ... We're not the type of team that's going to score 10 runs against that caliber of pitching.

"When we see opportunity, we go for it."

Westport plated a run in the first inning on a two-out single by catcher Matt Stone.

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


Westport 3,

Nashville, Tenn. 2

NASHVILLE001 010 -- 2 6 0

WESTPORT100 02x -- 3 7 0

Batteries: N-Tanner Morgan (L) Trae McLemore (5) and Christopher McElvain; W-Chad Knight, Harry Azadian (5, W) and Matt Stone.