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Little League team from Chula Vista to play for U.S. championship

CHULA VISTA -- With a dramatic extra-inning home run, the Eastlake Little League team from this San Diego suburb defeated Westport, Conn., on Wednesday night to win a spot in Saturday's U.S. championship game of the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa.

At the Eastlake Tavern & Bowl here, where hundreds of fans gathered to watch the game on 28 large-screen televisions, the result was explosive with cheering when Grant Holman homered in the ninth inning to lift Eastlake over Westport, 6-3.

Fans wore gold-and-green T-shirts distributed after the team won the regional tourney and the trip to the World Series. Some wore buttons with the team's slogan, "Find A Way."

"We're on the map now," said Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox. "It's good to escape San Diego's shadow every now and then."

Down 3-1 in the sixth inning, the final regulation inning in Little League games, the Eastlake team tied the score and sent the game into extra innings. Then Holman's homer in the top of the ninth gave Eastlake the edge.

If Chula Vista was joyous, Tijuana experienced sadness. The Tijuana team lost to Japan, 5-2. But Tijuana could yet reach the international championship if it can beat Panama on Thursday.

The winners of the American and international championships will play Sunday, with the possibility of an Eastlake vs. Tijuana world championship game.

Eastlake's appearance in the U.S. championship game will mark the second time that a team from Chula Vista has played for the top American spot. In 2009 a different Chula Vista league won the world championship, earning a trip to the White House.

Youth sports, sociologists have noted, is part of the DNA of suburban life. And nowhere is that more evident than Chula Vista.

Eastlake Little League has 560 players, in major, minor and T-ball leagues, and a league for 6-year-olds. The league owns its own fields, five on two sites, and enjoys corporate support. Parents are organized.

The league draws from a well-groomed area of planned communities with upscale housing and large shopping centers. Built in stages over three decades, Eastlake has attracted families whose breadwinners work in San Diego, retired military families and immigrant families from Mexico, among others.

When the Eastlake All-Star team of 12-year-olds won the regionals, fans swapped the Eastlake blue T-shirts for the gold-and-green ones to signify that the team had won the West.

"As much as I want us to win it all, we're just so proud of getting this shirt," said Denise Stephens, an accountant and past president of the league.

Kathy Hernandez, a dental assistant married to a retired Navy Seabee, was at the tavern to cheer Eastlake even though her son plays in a different league.

"You have to love these boys," she said. "They've earned it."


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