© St. Petersburg Times, published August 18, 2002
Tampa Bay's dream of a Little League World Series will have to remain just that. Netherlands withstood a bases-loaded jam in the seventh to beat Tampa Bay 5-3 in the final of the Junior softball tournament Saturday in Kirkland, Wash.
"We are national champions and they can't take that away from us," Tampa Bay manager Larry Rodriguez said.
Trailing 5-3 in the seventh, Tampa Bay's offense finally showed some life. Elizabeth Chesser singled, Katie Grimes reached on an error and Tari Owi singled with two outs to load the bases.
But Tampa Bay couldn't get the clutch hit to keep its hopes alive.
The team's steady defense also wasn't up to its high standards.
Tampa Bay was forced to go without workhorse pitcher Annie Pilger, who pitched in Friday's semifinal victory over the host team. Rodriguez was forced to shift his defense, pitching Lauren Castellvi and putting Pilger at second base. Tampa Bay committed an error in the third to help Netherlands score three runs with two outs, and two more errors in the fifth led to Netherlands' last two runs.
"We were very close," Rodriguez said. "I'm real proud of them.
"We talked about this before the game. Pitching would keep us in the game but defense would win us the championship."
Tampa Bay scored first in the top of the third after Grimes singled and Owi hit a high chopper to bring the run home.
In the fifth, Castellvi hit an RBI groundout to score Tampa Bay's second run. Owi followed with a double and Brittany Villa singled to put runners on first and third. Trailing 3-2, Tampa Bay put on a delayed steal as Villa swiped second and Owi came around to score the team's final run.
The loss was Tampa Bay's first in All-Star play. The team had gone 20-0 through district, sectional, state, region and World Series play prior to Saturday. The five runs tied the highest total Tampa Bay surrendered in the tournament.
"They got the opportunity to play for a world championship," Rodriguez said. "A lot of kids would want to be in their shoes. If this is the worst thing that happens to them, that's great."
Jeremy Lopez urged his cousin, Javier, to join his Little League team this summer. It's a good thing he did because the two make a potent pair for Harlem, N.Y.
Jeremy Lopez hit two home runs, including a grand slam, and Javier Lopez hit a two-run homer as Harlem beat Clemmons, N.C., 9-3 on Saturday in the opening game for both teams at the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa.
Leading off the third, Jeremy Lopez sent the first pitch over the wall in centerfield to give Harlem a 3-0 lead. In the fourth, he hit a pitch over the wall in left.
"The first home run, he just hung a fastball on the outside corner, so I just swung away," Jeremy said. "The second home run, he threw a curveball and I just drove it."
Jeremy Lopez went 3-for-3 with a walk. He singled to lead off the sixth and scored when Javier Lopez hit a 240-foot home run over the centerfield wall. Andrew Diaz added a two-run homer.
"This was beyond my expectations today in terms of how the bats were working," Harlem manager Morris McWilliams said. "The bats just came alive."
Harlem received by far the most attention of any team before the tournament because of accusations the team used players from outside its district. But Little League exonerated the team earlier this week, saying all the players complied with the rules.
Javier Lopez also pitched for Harlem, striking out 10 to earn the win. Alex Robinson (0-1) took the loss for Clemmons, N.C.
VENEZUELA 11, GUAM 1: Gerson Montilla hit a home run and a two-run double to lead Venezuela to the five-inning victory.
KENTUCKY 4, CALIFORNIA 1: Zachary Osborne hit two home runs and Aaron Alvey added a third for Kentucky. Osborne's two-run shot in the third brought home Wesley Jenkins and gave Kentucky a 2-1 lead. His second homer came in the fifth.
JAPAN 7, RUSSIA 0: Yoosuke Katoh hit two home runs and Yoshinori Satoh pitched a no-hitter with 10 strikeouts for Japan.
NETHERLANDS ANTILLES 10, MEXICO 1: Dennis Neuman pitched a one-hitter with 14 strikeouts and hit an RBI single in a six-run fifth for Curacao, Netherlands Antilles. Dany Walle hit an RBI double in the fifth as Netherlands Antilles sent 10 batters to the plate to break a 1-1 tie.
MASSACHUSETTS 2, MISSOURI 1: Keith Landers struck out 10 batters and Ben Landers drove in the go-ahead run in the fourth to lead Massachusetts.
BELATED HONORS: One year after being cheated out of a chance to play in the Little League World Series because of Danny Almonte, a Pennsylvania team was officially recognized as the 2001 Mid-Atlantic Regional champion.
In the regional championship last August, Almonte struck out 16 State College batters to lead Rolando Paulino of the Bronx to a 2-0 victory and into the World Series.
Rolando Paulino went on to finish third in the World Series, but the title was taken away after officials discovered Almonte was 14 -- too old to be competing in Little League.
State College's honorary captain, Patrick Moore, threw out the first pitch before Saturday's game between Harlem and Clemmons.
"Today was really nice and I'm glad they did this for us, but they can never take back what happened last year," player Joe Gazza said. "They (Rolando Paulino) basically took away every kid's dream."
-- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.