Andrew White might never get his bat back.
Since White let his friend Hance Smith start borrowing his bat, Smith has become one of the best hitters at the Little League World Series. Smith had been slumping with his own bat, but once using White's bat everything has changed.
Suddenly nobody can get him out. And Smith cannot stop driving in runs.
Smith put on an offensive show Thursday at Lamade Stadium, going 3 for 3, launching two home runs, including a first-inning grand slam, and driving in five runs. That and Danny Marzo's brilliant 11-strikeout, pitching performance powered West Region champ Petaluma, Calif., past Southwest champ San Antonio, Texas, 11-1 in five innings, and into Saturday's U.S. championship against Southeast titlist Goodlettsville, Tenn.
"He's been borrowing a bat so I don't think he (White) is going to get it back," California manager Eric Smith, also Hance's father, said.
"I'm definitely more confident," Hance said. "I'm getting my hands out away from my body. With that in my mind, I'm swinging more confident."
Smith has been on an offensive rampage during California's three-game Series winning streak. He has six hits, three home runs and 10 RBIs during that span, helping the West champions win three straight elimination games.
Texas, the second team from the McAlister Park American Little League to reach the Series in four years, concluded its season with just two losses and an impressive third-place finish in the U.S.
"They were just swinging the bats really well," said Texas manager Jack Wideman, who added his team will present the Uganda team with 100 gloves, a bunch of baseballs and cleats this morning. "They (his pitchers) were hitting their spots, but they were just smashing the ball."
Smith set the tone following three walks to California's first four hitters that helped produce the game's first run. He fought back from 0-2 and lined a game-changing grand slam over the left-center field fence. One batter later, Quinton Gago (2 for 3, two RBIs) slammed a mammoth home run halfway up the hill beyond left field that made it 6-0. The rout was on as California fans happily chanted "Petaluma!" repeatedly.
"I didn't hit it directly on the sweet spot. It was more on the handle if you can believe that," Gago said. "It was an inside fastball and I just turned on it."
The way Marzo was throwing, the 6-0 lead might as well have been 60-0. The left-hander threw the game of his life, considering the circumstances. Three nights after hitting a walk-off home run against New Jersey, Marzo again owned the moment on Little League's biggest stage.
This time, he allowed only two hits, struck out 11 and never let Texas sniff a comeback. He shut down a team that scored runs in bunches all summer, striking out the side twice and recording at least two strikeouts in all but the fifth inning.
"A lot of times in the first inning I have a lot of adrenaline so one of our coaches, Mike Slate, said think it's the second inning," Marzo said. "Instead of going out in the first inning and thinking it's the first just think it's the second inning already."
A Jordan Cardenas third-inning home run cut the deficit to 6-1, but it was all California from there. Responding immediately in the bottom half of the frame, White blasted his farthest home run yet, this one to left field.
Eric Smith said one reason Hance has been hitting so well is because of his natural swing. It is the kind of swing Smith has preached to all his players and the results speak for themselves.
"Hance hits home runs, but his game is line drives," Eric Smith said. "Home runs are not our game. I encourage singles, doubles and gaps. The home runs just happen."
California ended the game in the fifth inning, scoring five runs while delivering seven hits. The West champions displayed their strong balance that inning as the seven straight hits ended the game.
Gago, James O'Hanlon and Logan Douglas hit RBI singles and Douglas' single to right field ended the game, invoking the mercy rule. California finished with 12 hits and has scored 33 runs in five Series games. Eight players had hits last night.
"I've always been proud of them and I'm really happy with them," Eric Smith said. "These may be the two best games we've played in 26 games."
Cardenas homered for a third time at the Series while Carter Elliott also had a hit for Texas.