Late last August, Emil Matti and his family lost nearly everything when Hurricane Irene destroyed their home.
A year after experiencing the worst of times, Matti and his family now are experiencing the best of times. And how Matti has triumphed after last year's hard times symbolizes the fighting spirit he and his Parsippany, N.J., teammates possess.
Nearly a year to the day after experiencing a nightmare, Matti lived a dream Saturday night at Lamade Stadium, going 3 for 3, crushing two home runs, scoring four times and driving in three runs as Mid-Atlantic champ New Jersey defeated Northwest titlist Gresham, Ore., 10-4, in a Little League Baseball World Series elimination game.
"I was seeing the ball real well," Matti said. "Whatever they threw I felt like I could hit it."
Matti helped New Jersey earn a spot in Monday's game against the loser of today's California-Tennessee game. It also eliminated Oregon, which will meet Midde East/Africa champ Uganda Tuesday in a consolation game.
"He's a steady player," New Jersey manager Mike Ruggiero said of Matti. "He's a five-tool player."
Matti wowed the 15,100 fans in attendance with his bat, his speed and his glove. Still, it was his power that left the lasting impression.
Matti led off the game with a home run to center field that set the tone. He came up again the next inning and outdid himself, crushing a mammoth two-run home run over the wall and the bushes behind them in left-center field that made it 5-0.
Matti reached base all five times he batted, also drawing two walks and constantly putting pressure on the defense with his speed and power.
"It didn't matter where we put it, he was hitting it on a rope every time," Oregon manager Jason Trickel said.
Matti scored a run every inning that New Jersey did and the Mid-Atlantic champions held off Oregon after it pulled within a run in the third inning.
Actually, it looked like Oregon would take the lead after Tyler Linch hit a two-run single and moved to third on Tyler Pederson's double. Kyle Phillips had come for relief and surrendered that double and had to find a way to prevent the go-ahead runs from scoring with no outs.
Unfazed by the changing momentum, Phillips induced consecutive grounders and a flyout. Second baseman Daniel Ruggiero made a nice throw home on a fielder's choice for the second out and Phillips did a nice job changing the game's complexion.
Phillips was brilliant, throwing four innings of scoreless relief while allowing just one hit. He retired 12 of the last 13 batters he faced.
"I knew if I pitched good I could get out of it," Phillips said. "I knew I had a good defense behind me and that if I pitched it they would make the plays."
New Jersey seized control again with a four-run fifth inning highlighted by five straight two-out hits. Matti ignited the two-out rally with a double before Ruggiero hit a two-run single. Anthony Scanelli and David Tom then produced consecutive RBI singles, making it 10-4.
New Jersey hit well throughout the lineup and collected 13 hits. D.J. Pico hit a two-run, second-inning home run and went 2 for 4. It was Pico's first home run all summer.
"When I saw it off the bat I knew it was gone," Pico said. "It felt good because it was my first home run and it was at the Little League World Series."
The Mid-Atlantic champions also made several nice defensive plays, including Sarang Amin making a brilliant fifth-inning catch in left field.
Oregon right fielder Christian Turner might have made the game's best play when he hustled in to shallow territory, dove and robbed Pico of a third-inning single.
"It's been a great experience and the boys have enjoyed it," Trickel said. "Hopefully we'll scratch out a win Tuesday."