SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – For the better part of a week, the Dixie Little League felt like the team of destiny. But on Saturday night, the magic ran out.
Southern California pounded out 17 hits and held the scrappy southern Utah team at bay just long enough to earn an 11-7 win and a trip to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
Dixie lost the opener of the West Regional on Monday, but put together three spectacular victories to earn its way to Saturday’s championship game. And, like the other games this week, the Utah team refused to go away, even after surrendering a couple of early leads.
SoCal was represented by Santa Margarita Little League and the Orange County team started the game off well, jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning-and-a-half.
But with two outs and two on in the bottom of the second, Dixie No. 9 hitter Cole Decastro stepped to the plate. He worked the count to 1-1, then soared a high fly ball deep over the left field fence to tie the game at 3-3. Seth Wells and Kean Webb also scored on the play.
Again, Santa Margarita pulled out to a sizable lead. Six hits and a Dixie error in the top of the third pushed it to a 7-3 SoCal advantage.
It went to 8-3 in the top of the fourth when Drew Rutter socked a solo home run. But Dixie has made huge comebacks all week and Saturday’s championship game would be no different.
In the bottom of the fifth, Mason Kesterson followed a single by Ty Maynard with a two-run home run to make it 8-5. It was Kesterson’s only at bat of the game, but it was good enough to cut the lead from five to three.
Utah wasn’t done in the fifth. After Kesterson’s homer, Matt McArthur drew a full-count walk. The next batter, Parker Andrus, hit his second home run in as many days on the first pitch he saw. The long bomb sailed over the left field fence and made it an 8-7 game.
The next batter, Kyler Terry reached on an error and represented the tying run at first base. But Wells batted next and hit a screamer back to the pitcher, who fired to first base for a double play.
Southern California then put together a key rally in the top of the sixth that likely was the catalyst for its impending trip to Williamsport. SoCal had a pair of singles, but also had two outs when Joey Gray stepped to the plate.
Gray socked the first pitch from Decastro well over the right field fence for a three-run homer that pushed the lead out to 11-7, a comfortable advantage heading into the bottom of the sixth.
Trey Evans managed to get a one-out hit in the sixth, but the final two batters popped out in foul territory and Santa Margarita celebrated its win with a dogpile on the infield.
Utah, which ended up 3-2 at the West Regional, made the most of its five hits in the championship. Three of the five hits were home runs (Andrus, Decastro and Kesterson). Dixie also drew three walks and rallied around one SoCal error, but lacked the big hit numbers it had accumulated in the previous three games.
Gray led SoCal with three hits and three RBIs and Rutter had two hits and three RBIs. The Santa Margarita team has won 16 games in a row.
Southern California will head straight to Pennsylvania for the LLWS, which begins Thursday. SoCal’s first game is Friday against USA Northwest winner Oregon at 2 p.m. (EST).
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