Luke Brown pumped his fist twice and let out a loud yell that mixed unbridled joy and relief.
Jake Rucker threw his glove high in the air and Brock Myers bear-hugged Blake Osborne before lifting him high upon his shoulders. A three-hour, 19-minute odyssey filled with enough twists and turns to make M. Night Shyamalan envious, the game finally was over and a piece of history belonged to Goodlettsville, Tenn.
Southeast Region champ Goodlettsville scored nine seventh-inning runs, after West titlist Petaluma, Calif., staged a stunning 10-run, sixth-inning comeback, and captured the U.S. championship in dramatic fashion, winning, 24-16, Saturday at Lamade Stadium.
"I finally get to rest. My knees were killing me after six innings," Tennessee catcher Cole Carter said. "I don't think it's sunk in yet."
Lorenzo Butler broke a 13-year-old Little League World Series record by driving in nine runs on three consecutive three-run home runs as Goodlettsville became the first Tennessee team to reach the Little League World Series championship. It plays for that title at 3:15 p.m. today against International champion Japan. Step aside for a day Music City, the Little Leaguers own the Nashville community right now.
"The first Tennessee team ever. That's pretty special," Tennessee manager Joey Hale said. "I know I'm smiling. I can't stop."
A league that did not exist three years ago now has the country's best Little League Baseball team. And how it earned the championship someday will be the stuff of legend.
Tennessee survived California's 10-run sixth-inning barrage that included back-to-back home runs when the West champions were one strike from defeat. It prevailed in a game that shattered the Series record for combined runs (previously 29 in 1992) and that featured seven home runs, four that came in the last two innings, in addition to 35 hits.
In one memorable 1 1/2-inning sequence between the sixth and seventh innings, Tennessee and California, which plays Panama in today's 11 a.m. consolation game, scored 22 runs.
"I'm having the time of my life. This is Christmas for me right here," Hale said. "I've never been in a game like that in my life. That was the most unbelievable game I've ever been a part of."
Tennessee responded to California's sixth-inning barrage with one of its own. Jake Rucker's lead-off single was the first of five straight Tennessee hits. Brock Myers put Tennessee ahead to stay two batters later, pounding a two-run double off the left field wall.
Brown (2 for 4, two RBIs) and Carter (4 for 5, three RBIs) hit back-to-back singles and Jayson Brown capped the onslaught with a two-run home run. At a time when its morale could have been busted, the resilient team that beat Warner Robins in the Southeast final, 1-0, and that rallied in the sixth inning against Texas Wednesday was at its best.
"Their top of the lineup did it," said Jayson Brown, who like Rucker, had two hits and scored twice in the seventh. "We thought that meant we could do it too."
It appeared for much of the day that there would be no need for late-game heroics. Tennessee never trailed and Booker's third three-run home run in the sixth inning put the Southeast champions ahead, 15-5. Instead, what looked like the end was just the beginning.
"You don't really expect to score 10 runs there," California manager Eric Smith said. "I was just telling them to go up, have a good at-bat and look for something in the middle of the plate. Just do what your supposed to do, don 't change anything just because your down 10."
California rallied from a seven-run fifth-inning deficit to win the Northern California championship and never believed it was finished. Bradley Smith (3 for 5, three RBI, three runs) hit a lead-off single and ignited a stretch in which six straight batters reached base. By the time the first out was recorded California had cut the deficit to 15-10.
A Logan Douglas single made it 15-11, but when Danny Marzo flew out, it appeared California had run out of miracles. Smith kept hope alive with a RBI double before pinch-hitter Kempton Brandis took two strikes.
A strike from his team being eliminated, Brandis delivered the biggest hit of his life, slamming a two-run home run that made it 15-14. A batter later, Hance Smith took two strikes, falling behind 0-2. Again, he delivered, crushing his fourth home run of the Series onto the hill in the center field and tying the game 15-15.
"I'm so happy they came and fought back," Smith said. "All we've asked of them all year was their best effort. I never saw them quit and I never saw them think they were out of it. They certainly knew it wasn't going to be easy, but they weren't moping around the dugout."
Luke Brown earned the win in relief and retired the first two California batters in the seventh. Those were huge outs considering what the West champions had done an inning earlier. And again, California still did not go away as Douglas singled and scored on Marzo's double.
Brown finally put California away a batter later, skillfully locating a pitch on the outside corner for strike three. A few thousand of the 24,175 fans who attended the game left after the fifth inning. Almost an hour later the celebration those who left thought was imminent took place. In between was one of the most entertaining sequences in Little League history.
"Hats off to these guys for responding because they could have went in a shell right then and folded and (California) could be over here celebrating a win," said Hale, who added he was exhausted from the roller-coaster of emotions. "But these guys stuck to it and battled back and got nine more runs after they got 10. All I can say is wow!"
Many might say the same about Tennessee's offense that produced 21 hits. The top six hitters in the lineup all were locked, going a combined 18 for 27 with five home runs, 22 RBIs and 21 runs scored.
Tennessee started breaking the game open in the third inning when it scored six runs after the top six hitters all reached base to start the inning. Butler capped the eruption with a three-run home run that made it 8-1.
In a sign of things to come, California immediately responded, scoring four times and making it 8-5. Again Butler answered, this time smashing a three-run, fourth-inning home run that made it 12-5. When Butler made it a hat trick in the sixth inning, it appeared Tennessee would romp to its first national championship.
California had other ideas. The West champions, who won three straight elimination games to reach Saturday's U.S. final, collected 14 hits and sent 14 batters to the plate in the sixth inning.
"Both teams just hit the ball," Eric Smith said. "If the pitcher made a mistake and left just one pitch up, the batter hit it. Our team, their team, you couldn't make a mistake."
The only mistake made yesterday was by those who left early. Tennessee made history and those who watched it do so might never see a game quite like it again.