Joubert limits Panama in 5 innings of relief

CARA MORNINGSTAR/Sun-Gazette Puerto Rico’s Victor Cartagena runs to first base as Panama’s Luis Valdes plays first base during an elimination game at Volunteer Stadium in South Williamsport on Monday.

A closer look at Puerto Rico’s 3-1 win over Panama on Monday afternoon at Volunteer Stadium.

PLAY OF THE GAME: This wasn’t so much a play as it was a decision. Puerto Rico manager Carlos Texidor pulled starter Luis Rivera 23 pitches into his start, with the bases loaded and two outs. This had the potential to get ugly quick, but Texidor brought in ace Roberto Joubert, who pitched five innings of no-hit ball and saved Rivera to pitch today if need be.

“We know that in this game the team that scores more runs first was going to win the game,” Texidor said through an interpreter. “They (Panama) have three strong hitters in the lineup and I saw that Rivera wasn’t effective so I acted quickly giving Robert the opportunity.”

PUERTO RICO PLAYER OF THE GAME: Relief pitcher Roberto Joubert — The reserve came off the bench with two outs in the first inning and proceeded to mow through the Panama lineup. Joubert pitched five innings of relief before being pulled with one out left in the game due to the 85-pitch count rule. He didn’t allow a hit and struck out 14 batters, including the final 10 of 11 batters he faced. Joubert only allowed one ball in play and that never left the infield.

PANAMA PLAYER OF THE GAME: Starting pitcher Arod McKenzie. Despite giving up three runs, McKenzie pitched well enough for his team to win and received little offensive help with just one hit. He struck out 10 on 87 pitches of 4 1/3 innings worth of work.

BIG INNING: Caribbean fifth — Angel Vazquez took a pitch below the belt to lead off the bottom of the fifth. Victor Cartagena followed with a fielder’s choice, but everyone was safe on the play on the late throw to second base. Devin Ortiz followed with a similar play when he laid down a sacrifice bunt, but when the catcher tried to throw the ball to first, he slipped and everyone was safe again, loading the bases. After a foul pop-up to the catcher, Luis Rivera drew a bases loaded walk, scoring Delgado to make it, 2-1. Carlos De Jesus followed with just the third hit for the Caribbean as his bouncing single up the middle scored Cartagena for the 3-1 advantage.

BEST EFFORT: Panama pitcher Arod McKenzie had just walked the first two batters to open the bottom of the fourth inning and the next batter belted a game-tying double off the centerfield wall to tie the game at one. McKenzie didn’t panic, he grew stronger. The righty struck out the next three batters and left two runners stranded on second and third to preserve the tie.

HOME RUNS — None

FLASHING LEATHER: Puerto Rico’s Luis Diaz showed off his strong right arm on a single by Adan Sanchez in the first inning. Sanchez’s single dropped into deep right-center field and Diaz did a nice job of grabbing it on the first bounce and firing to third baseman Gabriel Rivera, who put the tag on Carlos Arcia for the first out of the inning.

Panama catcher Adan Sanchez made a sliding basket catch just feet in front of the plate on a bunt attempt to end the bottom of the fifth inning and leave the bases loaded.

WHAT THE ADULTS SAY: “It was a hard game for us. We were playing against a team from our region that almost plays the same,” Texidor said. “We prepared for this one. I just wanted our players to control the emotions on the field and they did a good job of that.”

WHAT THE KIDS SAY: “I was a little nervous and anxious but I quickly recovered,” Roberto Joubert said.

WHAT IT MEANS: The Caribbean Regional champions from Puerto Rico continue their run deeper into the Little League World Series when it takes on the winner of Canada/Mexico today at 3 p.m. at Lamade Stadium.

Panama’s unforgettable summer ends with a 1-2 mark in South Williamsport, but it will still play a crossover consolation game against an American team at a time and against an opponent to be determined.

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