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Louisiana appears in 1st LLWS title game after beating Hawaii

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Louisiana players dog pile on each other after beating Hawaii in the U.S. championship game at Lamade Stadium on Saturday.

When Jeffrey Curtis slammed a 1-0 pitch toward center field, it sounded like a home run. Curtis settled for a pinch-hit double that rocketed off the wall. As consolation prizes go, this one was pretty awesome.

Curtis did not hit a home run, but he opened the door and his teammates soon started kicking it in. This is how River Ridge, Louisiana does it. The reserves ignite rallies, the starters add fuel and the pitching and defense shine.

Time after time Louisiana manager Scott Frazier has told others how complete his team is. He is right, too. The Eastbank Little Leaguers are as well-rounded and deep as they are talented.

And now they are the United States’ best Little League Baseball team.

Curtis’s pinch-hit double sparked a five-run fifth inning as Louisiana built a nine-run lead then held off a furious sixth-inning rally defeated Wailuku, Hawaii, 9-5 , capturing the Little League World Series U.S. championship.

“It’s awesome,” Curtis said. “I never thought we would even be here.”

“I don’t think I comprehend it yet,” Louisiana manager Scott Frazier said. “It will probably take a little while to decompress and maybe in about a month I’ll realize what we accomplished.”

Reese Roussel broke the record for hits at a Series (15), going 2 for 3 with two RBIs and two runs, Marshall Louque went 3 for 4 with a triple, double and four RBIs and all parts of the Louisiana machine hummed perfectly. Will Andrade threw 4 2/3 shutout innings and Shortstop Stan Wiltz made the play of the game, snaring a Nakea Kahalehau liner with the bases loaded in the sixth. Ht then tagged second for the final out after Hawaii had batted around, scored five runs and put the tying run at the plate.

Get the crawfish and gumbo ready because New Orleans is having a party. River Ridge, located nine miles from New Orleans, is the first Louisiana team that has ever won a national championship. It will try adding a world championship to its resume Sunday when it faces International champion Curacao for the Series crown, back at Lamade Stadium.

“That’s why all 13 kids are here (at the postgame press conference). It’s a total team effort,” Frazier said. “Every one of these kids has contributed to every single win that we’ve had.”

Hawaii is hoping it can finish third in the world when it plays Japan in the tournament’s consolation game at 10 a.m. The West champions tried mounting a historic rally in the bottom of the sixth, proving they are every bit as tough as they are talented.

Louisiana scored nine runs in the fifth and sixth innings and its 9-0 looked insurmountable entering the bottom of the sixth. Instead, Kahalehau’s leadoff single ignited the team and eight of the team’s first nine batters reached base. Duke Aloy hit an RBI single, Kaleb Mathias and Isaac Imamura drew RBI walks and Bransyn Hong’s two-run single made it 9-5.

Seven years ago, California scored 10 runs in the bottom of the sixth, forcing extra innings against Tennessee and Hawaii looked like it might equal or one-up that achievement. Ryder Planchard came into to pitch and Kahalehau smashed a 3-2 offering, but Wiltz raced into the hole toward second and snared the screamer before tagging second and clinching the win.

It was one part ecstasy, one part relief as Louisiana players dogpiled in the infield grass and celebrated a historic, hard-fought win. Simultaneously, their orange-clad fans stood, applauded and screamed in delight.

“My coach said we just need strikes so I went in and did my job,” Planchard said. “I threw strikes and we won the U.S. championship.”

“My natural instinct took over and when I saw the line drive hit to me it was just another play for me,” Wiltz said. “I just did it. I wasn’t really thinking anything. I was just doing what I was capable of doing.”

Louisiana became the first team to deny Hawaii a world final berth in the state’s last five Series appearances. It also avenged its only loss this summer, a 5-2 defeat in the opening round.

Since suffering that defeat, Louisiana has gathered momentum, showcased its depth and overwhelmed its opponents. The Southwest champions have won five straight games and over the last four they have outscored the opposition, 34-6.

It has been a remarkable summer for the Eastbank Little League which was founded just six years ago. Two weeks ago, its softball team reached the world final and now the baseball team has done the same. Hawaii made it difficult, but that makes this win even sweeter.

“Hats off to those guys. I never felt comfortable ever in the game because they are so dangerous,” Frazier said. “They’re an exceptional team and that’s why they were undefeated up to this point. I was never comfortable until we got the second and third out on the same play.”

This game was a lot like the one that sent Louisiana to the U.S. final. Louisiana was clinging to a 1-0 lead against Virginia last Thursday before erupting for nine runs over the next two innings and winning, 10-0. Pinch-hitters Aldon Shorts and Curtis opened that fourth inning with hits and Louisiana scored seven times, taking an 8-0 lead.

History repeated itself Saturday. Louisiana had its chances over the first four innings but could not cash in. That started changing when Curtis led off the fifth inning and tattooed a 1-0 pitch off the wall in the deepest part of the field.

Curtis’s clutch double provided a jolt and Planchard continued showcasing the team’s depth when he hit an RBI single that gave Louisiana a 1-0 lead. Derek DeLatte reached on an error and Roussel was hit by a pitch.

That loaded the bases and Louque delivered again. Two days after throwing a no-hitter against Virginia, Louque doubled twice and his two-run, fifth-inning double off the left-field wall made it 3-0. Roussel and Louque then scored on wild pitches, capping the game-changing eruption.

“This game I was going for the (Series hits) record. The first three games or so I had no idea that I would come anywhere close to beating this record,” Roussel said. “I’ve been dealing with it (pressure) really well. I think it’s awesome. I just love it.”

The hits kept coming an inning later as Louisiana scored four more times and took a 9-0 lead. In its last two at-bats against Virginia and Hawaii, Louisiana has scored 18 runs. The new United States champions have 24 hits in those games, finishing 11 more yesterday. Reserves produced four of those hits and seven different players collected at least one against Hawaii.

How valuable those four two-out sixth-inning runs Roussel and Louque was driven home in the bottom of the sixth when Hawaii started its hit and walk parade. And how clutch Andrade was stifling a Hawaii offense that scored 12 runs and pounded out 12 hits in Wednesday’s winners’ bracket final victory against Virginia.

Andrade was spectacular in relief against Hawaii the first time these teams played and delivered on his biggest stage yet, scattering three hits in his 4 2/3 innings. Andrade struck out three, kept Hawaii off balance and relied on his stellar defense. Hawaii put two runners on in the fifth inning when Frazier replaced Andrade with Derek DeLatte who induced an inning-ending groundout.

“I felt more confident since I pitched against them the first game and I gave up no runs,” Andrade said. “I felt really confident that we were going to win this game and I was going to throw strikes.”

His confidence was rewarded. Louisiana again delivered a complete performance, scaled the highest of mountains and now has reached the United States summit.

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