Mora handles pressure of US title game

As Giancarlo Cortez recorded the game-ending strikeout and a sea of yellow-clad West Region champ Chula Vista, Calif., fans boisterously stood and cheered, Nick Mora momentarily stood motionless.

He and his team had just steamrolled New England champ Westport, Conn., 12-1, and captured the U.S. championship Saturday at Lamade Stadium. Mora was the main reason why as he homered, drove in four runs and threw 5 2/3 brilliant innings on the mound. And yet at the moment California became the country’s best team, Mora showed as much excitement as a bored businessman during a seminar.

Mora eventually pumped his fist and looked excited during the post-game press conference. His lack of on-field excitement might have had something to do with what manager Rick Tibbett told him Friday night.

“I expected that,” Tibbett said. “I talked to him (Friday) and told him he could handle the pressure. I told him he was ready for this.”

Indeed, he was.

Mora did not single-handedly win the game because California hit well throughout the lineup and played great defense. It just felt like he did.

Mora went 2 for 4, hit a game-changing three-run, second-inning home run and allowed just two hits in 5 2/3 innings while striking out 10. His immediate reaction in the game’s aftermath simply went along with what he displayed all game, poise and calmness.

“Give him credit. He made us look not so great,” Connecticut manager Tim Rogers said. “We’re not used to that.”

California has become used to Mora delivering great performances. He has done it all summer and especially has been dominant in his last two games, both wins over Connecticut. He homered twice in Wednesday’s come-from-behind 6-3, nine-inning win and was even better Saturday.

“That kid can hit,” Rogers said. “You just scratch your head when he’s up.”

California led 3-1 in the second inning and put two runners on with two outs. Pitcher Chad Knight fell behind 3-0 on Mora and many assumed Mora would take the next pitch.

Tibbett thought otherwise, giving his No. 3 hitter the green light while trying for a big inning. Mora made the gamble work in a big way, driving a fastball 280 feet over the fence onto the hill in left-center field.

Just like that, California led 6-1 and the game was right where Mora wanted it. In his hands.

“When I was hitting I was just staying calm,” Mora said. “I wasn’t trying to swing for a home run. I was swinging for line drives and trying to get on base.”

Mora did that three times and his sixth-inning, two-out RBI single ignited a six-run rally as California broke open the game. On a team that features the country’s most-feared Little League lineup, Mora stands out, having hit a team-high three home runs while hitting .429 at the Series.

“Nick comes up to the plate hacking hard,” Tibbett said.

He takes the mound throwing hard, too.

Mora dominated a powerful Connecticut lineup, allowing only two singles. He did this a day after the New England champion delivered 14 hits in a 14-13, extra-inning win over Washington.

The right-hander threw hard, but also mixed speeds, hit his spots and kept Connecticut off-balance. It was a true pitcher’s performance. It also was the second time Mora shined on the Series mound.

Last Sunday, Mora threw four strong innings against Delaware and now has 16 strikeouts in 9 2/3 Series innings while allowing just two runs and five hits.

“When I was pitching I knew most of their weaknesses and I pitched to them,” Mora said. “We studied them a lot.”

“He’s a 1A pitcher now,” Tibbett said. “Every time we have needed him, he’s come through.”

Mora does that in the field as well. He has been spectacular at shortstop and has yet to make a Series error.

Mora was playing shortstop yesterday when his Eastlake all-star team became the country’s best. He might not have shown much emotion when it happened, but as the years go by he most likely will.

On this day, on this stage, he was the best Little League player in the U.S.

“It wasn’t just today, it was Wednesday, too,” Rogers said. “He’s just amazing.”