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LITTLE LEAGUE WORLD SERIES : The Learning Curve Helps Northridge, 6-4

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Peter Tuber caught the scent of victory the moment he took the mound Tuesday, and the Northridge right-hander had hitters from Middleboro, Mass., whiffing at his pitches for six innings.

Tuber, grandson of former Brooklyn Dodger and National League batting champion Pete Reiser, struck out 13, leading Northridge to a 6-4 victory, the team’s first in Little League World Series play.

“I walked onto this field I had been dreaming about for so long, and it just smelled so good,” Tuber said. “I felt relaxed and pitched my game.”

After being held to one hit in a 4-2 first-round defeat by Brooklyn Center, Minn., on Monday, Northridge scored four runs in the third inning.

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After Spencer Gordon had driven in the first run with a single off the center field fence, first baseman Matt Cassel hit a three-run homer with one out. Cassel, who had sat out the Western Regional final Friday because of a cut on his left hand that required seven stitches, also had Northridge’s first hit of the game, a single in the second inning.

“The first hit gave me confidence and when I came up again I knew we needed a big hit,” he said.

Middleboro came back with three runs in the fourth, but Northridge second baseman Justin Gentile countered with a home run on the first pitch of the bottom of the inning. Northridge added a run in the sixth on a run-scoring single by Gregg Wallis.

Northridge (18-1) will complete pool play today against Springfield, Va., the Southern Region champion, at 4:30 PDT. Springfield, the only unbeaten U.S. team, defeated Brooklyn Center, 4-1, on Tuesday and defeated Middleboro, 2-1, in eight innings Monday.

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Northridge can advance to the U.S. championship game Thursday two ways. If Middleboro defeats Brooklyn Center today at 10 a.m. PDT, Northridge must defeat Springfield, enabling Northridge and Springfield to advance.

If Brooklyn Center defeats Middleboro, Northridge must defeat Springfield by more than six runs and allow three fewer runs than Brooklyn Center does in its victory over Middleboro.

Tuber retired 10 of the first 11 batters he faced and, at one point, struck out five in a row.

The league in Middleboro prohibits pitchers from throwing curveballs, which means the league’s hitters never face breaking pitches. Tuber showed them what they had been missing, and miss they did, flailing away at his breaking balls.

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Tuber ran into trouble only in the fourth. Middleboro strung together four hits in a row with one out, including consecutive doubles by twins Kevin and Brandon Brower. Gentile made a nice play to his left on a ground ball for the second out, but a run scored to cut the Northridge lead to 4-3. Tuber then struck out Jake Kutzy to end the inning.

The runs in the fourth and fifth innings gave Tuber some breathing room. Brandon Brower hit a home run to lead off the sixth, but Tuber kept his poise and struck out the side.

“We knew they hadn’t seen many curveballs, and Peter really had command of his curve today,” said Northridge Manager Larry Baca, who calls the pitches from the dugout. “I didn’t even consider having anyone come on in relief.”

Little League Notes

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In second-round games matching foreign teams, Maracaibo, Venezuela, defeated Taiwan, 4-1, and Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, defeated Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, 6-2. Pool play will conclude today with Taiwan (1-1) playing Dhahran (1-1) and Maracaibo (2-0) facing Nova Scotia (0-2).

With its victory, Maracaibo emerged as the favorite to represent the foreign teams in the championship game Saturday. Cesar Hidalgo pitched a two-hitter, striking out 15 and walking three, and Elio Perez homered for Maracaibo.


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