Ocean View's Trevor Windisch applies a late tag to Billings'… (Gene J. Puskar / Associated…)
Reporting from South Williamsport, Pa. — The friendship started in San Bernardino. The kids from Billings, Mont., won Little League's Northwest Region there while staying in dorm rooms adjacent to those of the Ocean View team from Huntington Beach, which won the West Region on the same field.
Because the Ocean View team drove to San Bernardino, it was able to pack a television and an Xbox video game console. Because kids are kids, everybody shared. By playing video games and pingpong and generally hanging out — while winning too — the teams became great friends.
On Saturday at noon PDT, Ocean View and Billings are scheduled to play for the United States championship and the chance to play for the Little League World Series title Sunday. The winner of the International championship game between Mexico and Japan at 9 a.m. PDT Saturday also will advance to the championship, which has been moved up to noon EST in hopes of playing the game before Hurricane Irene moves into the area. The third-place game has been cancelled.
Montana defeated Ocean View, 1-0, Wednesday when Ben Askelson stunned relief pitcher Braydon Salzman with a walk-off home run in the seventh inning.
Montana earned a two-day break with that win, and Ocean View was forced to survive another taut and well-pitched game in eliminating the Mid-Atlantic Region representative, Clinton County, Pa., 2-0, Thursday night.
Ocean View Manager Jeff Pratto said he would start his son, Nick, Saturday and have Salzman ready to go Sunday if Ocean View wins.
Nick Pratto, a left-hander, has pitched seven scoreless innings in the Series, including four against Montana. Salzman, a right-hander who came on in relief after Pratto threw 50 pitches, recovered from giving up the game-winning home run to Montana on Wednesday by finishing off the win against Clinton County on Thursday.
Among the four remaining teams playing for the World Series title, Ocean View's Hagen Danner is the leading hitter with a .500 average, seven hits in 14 at-bats. Danner also has pitched 81/3 scoreless innings, but he threw the maximum number of pitches allowed in his start Thursday, so he is not eligible to pitch Saturday or Sunday.
No team from Montana before Billings had advanced to the LLWS, but the Big Sky Little League players said making history wasn't on their minds.
"We're just having fun," catcher Andy Maehl said.
It was Maehl who described how the bonding began with the Ocean View players.
"The Xbox," he said. "It was a good conversation starter. And they're really cool and fun to hang out with."
Askelson, the hero with the home run Wednesday, said it was a little hard to believe his team would be playing Ocean View for the U.S. title.
"We talked about how awesome it would be to both go to Williamsport together and fly on the plane together," he said.
Manager Pratto said what has impressed him about Montana is its consistency.
"On the field, they're making all the necessary plays," he said. "They're getting timely hitting to keep them in games, and Cole McKenzie has given them great starting pitching."
One factor that could postpone Saturday's games is the weather.
Rain and wind from Hurricane Irene are expected to be in the area Saturday and Sunday. If there are postponements, the tournament would be extended to Monday.