As he rounded first base, Danny Marzo lifted both his arms high into the air and lived nearly every Little Leaguer's dream.
Marzo had hit a walk-off home run before, but never had he hit one quite like this. It came at the Little League Baseball World Series and kept his team's season alive, pulling ity one step closer to a world championship.
Marzo crushed a lead-off, eighth-inning home run halfway up the hill in right field Monday at Lamade Stadium, lifting West Region champ Petaluma, Calif., to a dramatic, 5-4, elimination win over Mid-Atlantic titlist Parsippany, N.J.
"(Coach) Eric (Smith) had told me don't try to be a hero, just make contact. "If you go up there thinking contact good things will happen. You can't go up there thinking walk-off home run. I was just trying to get a base hit and make contact."
California advanced to the U.S. Final Four against Connecticut/Indiana and will play for its survival again at 8 p.m. today.
New Jersey scored twice in the sixth to force extra innings before finally having its dream season come to and end. The team from Parsippany was the first from its league and city to ever reach the Series and won a game while also throwing big scares into two traditional powerful regions - the Southwest and West.
"The kids pulled together and it's an awesome team. It's unbelievable how they grew up together," New Jersey manager Mike Ruggiero said. "The goal at our first practice was to reach the Little League World Series. I told the kids you reached Disneyland. This is the best place in the world to play and you played here."
Had it not been for Marzo, they still might be playing.
Marzo (2 for 4) took a strike to start the inning before gaining Petaluma folk hero status. He clobbered the next pitch high into the air and by the time it landed halfway up the muddy hill behind Lamade Stadium, his teammates already had stormed out of the dugout, thrilled to get to play another day.
"I didn't see it leave the park," said shortstop Hance Smith, who went 2 for 3. "One he hit it I went right out to congratulate him."
"I didn't want to go down 0-2," Marzo said. "At 0-2 he has too many options."
California needed Marzo's heroics after New Jersey mounted a furious sixth-inning rally, erasing a two-run deficit and tying it 4-4. Emil Matti ignited the rally when he smashed his third Series home run into the bushes behind the second fence in the center field. Daniel Ruggiero followed with a double before Bener Uygun hit an infield single.
Anthony Scannelli, who homered in his previous at-bat, was intentionally walked and David Tom then hit a game-tying RBI single. New Jersey looked like it would take the lead, but the runner rounding third tripped and was caught in a rundown before being tagged out.
Starter Bradley Smith recorded a strikeout on his 90th and final pitch before winning pitcher Logan Douglas entered and struck out the last batter to end the rally.
"They never quit," Ruggiero said. "I had the utmost confidence they would do it."
Douglas was outstanding in relief, throwing 2 1-3 scoreless innings and stranding two runners in the seventh while striking out four.
"I was a little nervous," Douglas said. "I just had to throw strikes. I knew I had my defense behind me to make the plays."
Before New Jersey mounted its comeback, California made one of its own. Scannelli scored the game's first run on a second-inning wild pitch and made it 2-0 in the top of the fourth with a long home run.
California had only one hit through three innings, but reserve Blake Buhrer sparked a three-run rally in the bottom of the fourth, hitting a pinch-hit, lead-off single. Marzo followed with a single and 6-foot-2 Bradley Smith surprised nearly all 8,100 in attendance when he dropped a perfect bunt single that was thrown away and allowed the first run to score.
Hance Smith put California ahead for the first time, two batters later, hitting a two-out, two-run single into left field. Douglas scored an inning later on Bradley Smith's RBI single and California took a 4-2 lead into the sixth.
"I've said along the way that one of the reasons we got here is because we can start a rally anywhere in the order," Eric Smith said. "Blake proved that today. That was a big hit that allowed us to get a big inning going."
An outstanding game was made even more fun by the great plays that were consistently made. California third baseman Cole Tomei twice made diving stops to his left and robbed players of singles. New Jersey left fielder Alex Cavaluzzo made a spectacular first-inning catch, fully extending his left arm and snaring Marzo's liner on the warning track.