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Huntington Beach Ocean View wins Little League World Series in dramatic fashion

Nick Pratto's two-out single with the bases loaded results in a 2-1 walk-off win against Hamamatsu City, Japan, giving Orange County its first Little League championship.

August 28, 2011|By Diane Pucin
  • Ocean View's Hagen Danner (24) celebrates with teammates after hitting a solo home run against Japan in the third inning of the Little League World Series championship game on Sunday in South Williamsport, Pa.
Ocean View's Hagen Danner (24) celebrates with teammates after hitting… (Gene J. Puskar / Associated…)

Reporting from South Williamsport, Pa. -- Bases loaded, two outs, a 12-year-old boy digs his foot into the batter's box and there it is, a moment youngsters from all over the world dream about.

The scene might have taken place in the mind of any kid standing in a backyard or on a sandlot field, but on Sunday it played out before a national television audience and a crowd of 11,950 at Lamade Stadium, youth baseball's Mecca.

And Nick Pratto, the confident son of a coach, delivered in a very real way.

His two-out single in the bottom of the sixth and final inning was the difference as Ocean View of Huntington Beach defeated a team from Hamamatsu City, Japan, 2-1, to win the championship of the Little League World Series.

"I was just thinking, 'Oh God, oh God, oh God,' before I was getting into the box," Pratto said of his final at-bat. "But once I got into the box I calmed myself by telling myself to just look for a good pitch."

He found one on the third pitch he saw from reliever Kazuto Takakura, smacking a line drive into center field that brought pinch-runner Eric Anderson home with the winning run.

As Pratto rounded first base and gave his helmet a celebratory toss in the air, teammates surged out of the dugout and met him in the infield, creating a dog pile. Asked how that felt, Pratto smiled broadly and said, "I was claustrophobic."

It marked the sixth time in seven years that a team from the United States won Little League's signature prize. Japan won last year over Hawaii, a team that had knocked Huntington Beach out in a regional championship game, one step away from reaching the 16-team Little League World Series tournament.

It was also a first Little League championship for a team from Orange County, a baseball hotbed which had already won a major league championship with the Angels, college titles with Cal State Fullerton, and whose high schools annually produce high picks in professional baseball's draft.

Pratto and Hagen Danner were the only members of this year's Huntington Beach team who were part of last year's squad that came so agonizingly close. Given another opportunity, they starred for an All-Star team that has been together every day since its first practice on June 16.

Huntington Beach played its first game on June 28, won district, section, division and regional championships just to reach the finals, and ended up 23-2 overall, including 5-1 at the World Series.

The work — and the wait — were worth it. Being known as a world champion, Pratto said, "has a nice ring to it."

Pratto, a left-hander, was the winning pitcher in the U.S. championship game on Saturday. He appeared in four games as a pitcher and didn't allow a run in 12 1/3 innings, striking out 21. He also hit .429 with seven runs batted in and turned in a couple of highlight reel defensive plays at first base.

Danner had 11 hits at the World Series, the most of any player, including two home runs — one of them Sunday in the third inning. He also won two games as a pitcher, striking out 17 in 8 1/3 innings and not allowing a run.

Another star on Sunday was pitcher Braydon Salzman, who gave up three hits and didn't allow an earned run while striking out nine without a walk in a complete-game effort.

"Braydon went beyond the call of duty," Huntington Beach Manager Jeff Pratto said. "He was very efficient, changed speeds, was able to hit a spot when he needed. That's what you have to do to beat Japan."

Salzman pitched well throughout the team's historic run, but he entered Sunday's championship game having given up two long home runs to players from Billings, Mont. — one that resulted in an extra-innings loss that put Huntington Beach within a game of elimination, and the other in relief Saturday at the end of an 11-2 win in the U.S. championship game.

More than that, Salzman survived the shock in an earlier game of having a line-drive comebacker strike him directly in the bill of his cap. The impact knocked him off his feet but he was able to stay in the game and the tournament, becoming an instant celebrity as video of the drama was replayed dozens of times on television.

ESPN even produced a "Sports Science" segment that explained to viewers that the ball was traveling roughly 82 mph as it struck Salzman, who was standing about 40 feet from the batter after finishing his delivery. The shot left a bite-size dent in the cap, but the strength of the bill and the fact it was pulled down low, just over his eyes, saved him.

But he didn't rattle then or lose his cool Sunday in the third inning when Japan struck for a go-ahead run when a hit was followed by two throwing errors.

Thanks to Danner, Huntington Beach wasn't behind for long. In the bottom of the inning, he fouled off the first pitch to him and hit the second over the fence in right-center field. Just like that, the score was tied, 1-1.

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