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Huntington Beach Little Leaguers lose, 1-0

Montana gets a walk-off homer in the seventh inning to advance to U.S. championship game. Ocean View will try to stay alive Thursday.

August 24, 2011|By Diane Pucin
  • Ben Askelson, in batting helmet, is surrounded by teammates Patrick Zimmer (19), Connor Kieckbusch (1), Ian Leatherberry (5), Jet Campbell (2) and Sean Jones (21) as they celebrate Askelson's game-winning home run against Huntington Beach on Wednesday night in South Williamsport, Pa.
Ben Askelson, in batting helmet, is surrounded by teammates Patrick Zimmer… (Tom E. Puskar / Associated…)

Reporting from South Williamsport, Pa. — One pitch, one swing, one run, one loss. That's what happened to the Ocean View Little League team from Huntington Beach on Wednesday night.

Ben Askelson crushed a hanging curveball from relief pitcher Braydon Salzman in the bottom of the seventh inning to give the Big Sky Little League team from Billings, Mont., representing the Northwest, a 1-0 win over Ocean View.

Ocean View, the West champion, had outscored its opponents, 21-0, and had 23 hits in winning its first two games here. But the West team had only three hits while being shut out by Montana's two pitchers, starter Cole McKenzie and winner Sean Jones.

"It's better to lose tonight than in an elimination game," Ocean View Manager Jeff Pratto said. "We just didn't hit the ball."

Ocean View must now play that elimination game Thursday against the local favorites, the Keystone Little League team from Clinton County, Pa.

Montana, which has never had a team in the Little League World Series, will play for the U.S. championship Saturday. Pratto said he expected it would be against his team. "We'll come back," Pratto said.

"It's a little emotional," the manager added, "but to tell you the truth we're excited to come out [Thursday] and play. We've been sitting around too much."

Pratto's son, Nick, had been nearly unhittable in his four innings. He struck out nine Montana batters and gave up only two hits. He needed only 12 pitches to strike out the side in the first inning.

Ocean View loaded the bases in the top of the sixth without a hit, but Hagen Danner lined out to Askelson in left to end the threat.

Nick Pratto had a nervous moment in the bottom of the fourth when he gave up a one-out double to McKenzie. McKenzie moved to third when Askelson grounded out to second base, but Pratto struck out Montana catcher Andy Maehl and as he ran to the dugout, Pratto did a tiny fist pump to celebrate his ninth strikeout.

But after Salzman pitched two good innings in relief, the end came quickly.

On the second pitch of the seventh inning, Askelson powered out his home run over the left-field wall, a no-doubter hit, Jeff Pratto said, off a curveball from Salzman.

"Everybody in the dugout was telling me to win it with one swing," Askelson said. "But then they said, 'Just get a hit, we don't need a home run or anything.' "

The home run worked, though.

Mexico advances

Bruno Ruiz hit a home run to center field in the top of the ninth inning Wednesday afternoon to lead his team to its second straight extra-inning win. Ruiz's homer over the 225-foot sign beat Venezuela, 2-1. Mexico is now in the international bracket final. Venezuela will play Japan on Thursday in an elimination game.

Mexico had escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the sixth inning with a strikeout and a pitcher-home-first double play.

Ruiz was pounded on his helmet by almost all of his teammates after his winning blast. "I knew what to expect," Ruiz said. "Everyone who hits a home run on my team, they get hit on the helmet."

diane.pucin@latimes.com twitter.com/mepucin

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