Jordan Cardenas fulfilled a personal dream when he hit a first-inning lead-off home run at Lamade Stadium Friday.
What he did in the fourth inning helped bring Southwest champ San Antonio, Texas, one step closer to achieving a team and citywide dream.
Cardenas stranded the bases loaded that inning, preventing the tying and go-ahead runs from scoring while helping pave the way for a 5-2 Texas win over Mid-Atlantic champ Parsippany, N.J. No San Antonio team ever has won a Little League Baseball World Series championship, but Cardenas helped it increase its chances this time, leading it into Sunday's winner's bracket game against either Indiana or Oregon.
"I was very nervous," Cardenas said. "I was just telling myself, 'stay calm and don't let anything get to you, just relax.'"
Cardenas pitched 2 1-3 scoreless and hitless innings as Texas improved to 16-0 this summer. His first-inning home run, a liner over the center-field fence, put Texas ahead to stay against the gutty Mid-Atlantic champions.
"I couldn't believe it," Cardenas said. "I never thought I'd be hitting a home run in Williamsport."
Texas scored its next three runs off New Jersey errors and led 4-0 before rallying in the fourth. Anthony Scanelli followed Bener Uygun's lead-off double with a RBI single and D.J. Pico later drew a bases-loaded walk off Cardenas, who just had replaced starter Tyler Vitt, making it 4-2.
Now Cardenas had to contend with Alex Cavaluzzo, who doubled his first time up, as well as Emil Matti, one of the team's best hitters. Add in a large contingent of New Jersey fans, who filled the third-base and right-field bleachers standing on their feet, and the heat on Cardenas was nearly as hot as the 108-degree temperatures Texas endured during regionals.
Still, Cardenas kept his cool and recorded a strikeout before inducing an inning-ending grounder to shortstop Grant Gomez. Just like that, he had silenced the crowd and New Jersey never seriously threatened again.
"We had been down four runs several times before," Texas manager Jack Wideman said. "I just told them to relax and play."
"We were a hit away from tying that game," New Jersey manager Mike Ruggiero said. "They never quit. Every game we always have an inning and we were having our inning, it just got cut short."
New Jersey hit well against Tyler Vitt, who allowed no runs at the Southwest Regional, but hurt itself more than Texas did. The Mid-Atlantic champions allowed four unearned runs to score. Combine that with Cardenas' clutch performance and it was too much to overcome.
New Jersey plays Indiana or Oregon in tonight's 8 p.m. elimination game. It has proven a resilient team before and can look back at last year's Pennsylvania and Mid-Atlantic champ Keystone going from a first-round loss to finishing third in the country as added motivation.
"We had a lot of support up here today. It's amazing," Ruggiero said. "We're at the best place in the world for Little League right now. You can't hang your head because you lost a World Series game."
Matti led off the game with a ground-rule double, but Vitt retired the next three hitters, two via strikeout. He earned his third win since the start of regionals and struck out four in 3 1-3 innings.
New Jersey had three extra-base hits and outhit Texas through four innings. Matti scattered four hits and allowed only one earned run while striking out six against a team that outscored five Southwest opponents, 51-3.
"That is a great team we played," Wideman said. "That's just a good team all the way around."