Texas earns spot in the US final

Texas second baseman Malcolm Deason tags out Connecticut’s Michael Iannazzo in the first inning on Thursday at Lamade Stadium in an elimination game. (MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette)

Malcolm Deason used all his 61 inches when he made a Houdini-like catch on a low-hit line drive on Thursday night. Two innings later he did this same thing, except the 5-foot-1 second baseman jumped high and made this grab.

Deason basically epitomized his entire team with just two plays. Lufkin, Texas players have sacrificed, gone high, gone low, traveled far and worked hard. It has been a long road but, it has led exactly where Texas hoped it would.

Deason played superb defense, Collin Ross hit a three-run home run, Mark Requena threw an excellent game and Texas scored eight first-inning runs as it throttled Fairfield, Connecticut, 14-4, in five innings Thursday at Lamade Stadium and clinched a spot in Saturday’s U.S. Championship game. The Southwest champions rebounded from Wednesday’s 2-1, seven-inning loss to North Carolina in impressive fashion and earned a rematch against the Southeast champions Saturday.

“I just have that drive in me to make the plays,” Deason said. “We like missing school, but we like playing baseball during school. It’s fun.”

Texas manager Bud Maddux never doubted his team would come back strong. That is what he has watched them do all summer. Texas has often come back to win games and has proven as tough as it is talented. Now that loss is history and Saturday’s game is a winner take all showdown for a national championship.

“I know these young men and I know what they’ve gone through to get here,” Maddux said. “You never want to lose a game, but all that meant was we got to play another game. We got to swing the bats and play defense.”

Everything that has made Texas one of the country’s top two Little League teams was on display in the first inning last night. After Requena worked a hitless top of the first, Texas erupted, took advantage of three Connecticut errors and ran the bases well as it took an 8-0 lead.

Ross provided the big blow and gave Texas an immediate boost when he drove his third Series home run over the right-center field fence and gave his team a quick 3-0 lead.

“It (Wednesday’s loss) helped us,” Ross said. ‘It was motivation to get the win. We were more determined.”

Ross’s home run started a stretch in which five straight Texas players reached base. Christian Mumprhey and Chip Buchanan singled while Requena and Blake Slaga drew walks. A wild pitch, Buchanan’s steal of home and error and Deason’s two-out, two-run single put Texas up, 8-0, as the Southwest champions made an early emphatic statement.

A Slaga RBI single made it 9-0 an inning later before Michael Iannazzo pulled Connecticut within 9-2, slamming two-run third-inning home run. The New England champions, however, pulled no closer as Texas scored three more times in the bottom of the third.

All four Texas batters reached in the fifth inning, ending the game early. Clayton Wigley delivered a walk-off, two-run single after Ross and Christian Mumphrey singled. Wigley was one of 10 different Texas players who collected at least one hit.

The curtain finally dropped on Connecticut’s season but what a season it was. The Fairfield American Little League appeared at the Series in 2010 and 2012 but won just one game each time. This time, Fairfield finished as the country’s third-best Little League team, winning three games at the Series and becoming the most decorated team in its league’s illustrious history.

Matthew Vivona hit a fourth-inning home run, Sean O’Neill hit an RBI double and Connecticut became the first New England team to reach the U.S. Final 3 since 2013.

“We are one of best three teams in the country to play Little League Baseball. This won’t sour any of their accomplishments,” Connecticut manager Mike Randazzo said. “If they see any tears coming out of my eyes, it’s not because we lost, it’s because the summer is over. This was absolutely magical. We will never forget this.”

Requena made his pitching debut at the Series a fantastic one, holding a powerful offense to four hits in 4 2/3 innings and striking out six. He also prevented Maddux from having to burn more arms, keeping all but Requena and Hunter Ditsworth eligible to throw Saturday.

Requena was backed by superb defense. Deason made his two sensational plays that took away hits and Ross made a catch at the center-field wall that robbed Iannazzo of either another home run or a double.

“I was very excited that we put up eight runs (in the first inning),” Requena said. “I was more relaxed.”

Texas will try staying relaxed today as it receives a day off before going after the country’s biggest Little League prize. All roads have led to Saturday and Texas is embracing the opportunity.

“I’m ready for it,” Ross said. “I’m ready for Saturday. I just want to get out and play.”