Panama cruises past Canada

A closer look at the Arraijan, Panama’s 8-3 win over Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, Friday at Volunteer Stadium.

PLAY OF THE GAME: It’ll largely go unnoticed because it wasn’t a game-winning hit, but Carlos Arcia’s RBI triple in the top of the sixth inning put a little spark back in the Latin America offense after it had been dormant for the better part of three innings. His drive to the right-field wall scored Oliver Gonzalez and gave an insurance run to the team from Panama.

PANAMA PLAYER OF THE GAME: Adan Sanchez — There was quite a fire burning with the Canada offense in the bottom of the sixth inning. Down seven runs, the Canada champs rallied with consecutive hits to open its final at-bat. Then Panama called on Sanchez, who might as well be nicknamed “the Fireman.” The hard-throwing right-hander struck out three of the four batters he faced, allowing just a weak infield single to close out Latin America’s win. Oh, and did we mention he also hit a home run? His three-run blast in the second inning was a back-breaker.

CANADA PLAYER OF THE GAME: Jordan Jaramillo — On a night where Canada struggled to pick up hits, it was the team’s pitching staff which kept it in the game and gave it a chance to come back. Jordan Jaramillo’s relief of starting pitcher Ian Huang may have been most impressive, though. Pitching a team-high 1 2/3 innings, Jaramillo didn’t allow a base hit and struck out five batters. He also didn’t surrender a walk. So even with Panama leading, 6-1, he kept the game right there for the offense to try and climb back into the contention.

BIG INNING: Latin America set quite a tone in the first inning. Its first three batters of the frame reached base, with Carlos Arcia and Adan Sanchez picking up hits. Then just by putting the ball in play the team from Vacamonte Little League in Arraijan, Panama, forced the Canada Region champs into mistakes which eventually spelled its doom. A wild pitch score Arcia. Sanchez scored on a safety squeeze bunt, and Brian Villarreal scored from second on the same play when the ball was fielded and thrown away at first base. With Villarreal on the mound overpowering the Canadian lineup, the three runs seemed like 30.

BEST EFFORT: Canada used five pitchers to get through Friday night’s tournament opener. After Latin America opened up a 6-1 lead in the second inning, the writing was on the wall and Canadian manager Mike Marino managed his players’ pitch counts and worked through the game. But those five pitchers were stellar. They combined to strike out 14 Panama hitters and threw strikes on better than 62 percent of its pitches. Ian Huang struck out four, Jordan Jaramillo struck out five, Zaeden Pleasants had four of his own, and Cole Balkovec had one. It could be a tone-setter for Whalley Little League moving forward.

“Our depth is pitching,” Canada manager Mike Marino said. “But we can throw the ball. I have a great pitching, Lucky Pawa, who is great with the kids. They all have three pitches and they use them very well.

“Not that we threw in the towel, but we had to start thinking about the next game, which is why we started going 20-20-20 with our last few guys so they’re available (Saturday).”

HOME RUNS: Latin American region champion Panama was already leading 3-1 when Sanchez stepped to the plate in the top of the second inning Friday night. The shortstop made sure the scoreboard changed quite abruptly. He blasted a first-pitch offering over both fences in left-center field, chasing a throng of kids after a runaway baseball. Sanchez cleared the bases for a three-run tank which put Latin America comfortably ahead for the remainder of the game. He and teammate Brian Villarreal celebrated behind home plate with a handshake which finished with them both mimicking Sanchez’s home run swing.

FLASHING LEATHER: While there was no one singular play which stood out among the others, Panama’s collective defensive effort was simply sublime. Their third basemen cut off grounders and threw with precise accuracy to first base. At shortstop, Sanchez fielded the ball with deft control and transferred the ball quickly before unleashing missiles to first baseman Luis Valdez. Although there weren’t many chances, the outfielders camped under fly balls making sure to corral anything they could get their glove on. It was a strong opening performance in which nary a hint of nervousness was present.

WHAT THE ADULTS SAY: “They attacked early in the game, which is what they always do,” Latin America manager Elpidio Pinto said through an interpreter. “And then we had the pitching to finish it off.”

WHAT THE KIDS SAY: “I was just thinking hit the ball to the middle of the field,” Latin America’s Adan Sanchez said. “I happen to hit it far enough for a home run, and I’m happy with that. It was a great environment for us. We knew Canada was going to be a hard team to play, but we made our adjustments and got the win.”

WHAT IT MEANS: The Latin America champs from Panama advance in the winners’ bracket where it will face Japan on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Volunteer Stadium.

Canada falls into an elimination game today at 6 p.m. at Volunteer Stadium where it faces the Europe-Africa Region champion from Spain.