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Conejo Valley Comes Up Short in Little League World Series Final

Bigger team from Curacao manages to stave off a late rally to beat team from Thousand Oaks, 5-2.

August 30, 2004|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — After two months and 22 victories, the Conejo Valley baseball team from Thousand Oaks finally met its match Sunday night in the championship game of the Little League World Series.

It came in the form of Willemstad, a physically imposing team from Curacao, a 171-square-mile island about 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela.

Behind five innings of dominant pitching by Carlos Pineda and several uncharacteristic mistakes by the Conejo Valley defense, Curacao won, 5-2, in front of 34,550, becoming the first team from the Caribbean to win the Series.

"We lost the battle and beat ourselves with some errors," Conejo Valley Manager Tom Ginther said. "It was tough on us, it was tough to see that as coaches. We've come this far and a few mistakes like that, and, you know, you cringe."

Ginther added that the loss would not detract from Conejo Valley's U.S. title, the first by a Southland team since South Mission Viejo in 1997.

"You can't forget about this one week," he said. "My emotions are going to carry with me for a lifetime. This is being on top of the world."

Conejo Valley (22-1) had made only two errors in the series heading into the game and had given up only one unearned run during the postseason. But in the first three innings, Conejo Valley made three errors and used poor judgment on another play that led to two unearned runs.

Curacao, which rallied from four runs down in the sixth inning of an international semifinal Wednesday to tie Taiwan and eventually win in extra innings, didn't waste any time putting Conejo Valley on its heels. It took a 3-0 lead in the first inning, the biggest deficit Conejo Valley has faced during the postseason.

Conejo Valley starter Jordan Brower fell behind the first three batters. He walked Gerson Adamus with one out, threw a wild pitch to advance him to second and then gave up a run-scoring single to Jonathan Schoop, marking only the third time during the postseason Conejo Valley has trailed. After striking out Pineda, the cleanup batter, he gave up a two-run homer to Jurickson Profar.

Curacao (14-0) tacked on the unearned runs in the third. Charlton Martis dropped a soft fly ball in front of a late-breaking Cody Thomson in right field, which was ruled an error.

Catcher John Lister then fielded a bunt by Willie Rifaela in front of the plate and threw high to second base on a force attempt, resulting in another error.

The next batter, Quincy van Blarcum, hit a line drive to right field. Thomson tried to make another shoestring catch, but the ball got by him and rolled toward the wall. Van Blarcum was caught in a rundown between second and third, but Rifaela broke from third base and Tyler Karp's throw home short-hopped Lister, giving Curacao a 5-0 lead.

Ginther said Thomson and first baseman Danny Leon, who made the first error of the game, were diagnosed with strep throat Friday.

"We were a very tired team, and it showed," Ginther said. "[The illnesses] took a toll on us."

Pineda, a 5-foot-11, 169-pounder who was the biggest player at the tournament, threw 27 pitches in the first inning, hitting Timmy Ginther to begin the game and walking Brower with two out, but he struck out Karp to end the inning.

After his team gave him a three-run lead, he settled into a groove, striking out the side in the second and third.

He didn't face trouble again until the sixth, when McIntyre laced a double and pinch-hitter Adam Justiniano followed with a two-run homer to knock Pineda from the game.

"Too bad we didn't get something like that in the third or fourth inning to perk us up," Ginther said.

After Schoop relieved Pineda, Conejo Valley got runners on first and third with two out, but James Brady grounded to first to end the game.

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