A Shot in Arm for Northridge : Baseball: Gentile pitches Valley squad into U.S. championship game with one-hitter, 2-0.
A pitch called the Agony produced pure ecstasy for Northridge on Wednesday night in the Little League World Series, vaulting the Western Region representative into today’s United States championship game.
Bolstered by the faith from his manager, Justin Gentile pitched a one-hitter to lift Northridge to a 2-0 victory over Springfield, Va., before 17,500 at Howard J. Lamade Stadium.
Gentile, a right-hander with an overhand delivery, mixed fastballs with a change-up he has affectionately named the Agony to strike out 13. Eric Miller singled to lead off the first inning but Gentile allowed only two walks the rest of the way and another batter reached base on an error.
At least Springfield didn’t agonize for long: The game lasted 1 hour 31 minutes.
Northridge (19-1, 2-1 in series pool play) will face Springfield (17-2, 2-1) again today for the U.S. championship at 1:30 PDT. The game will be televised on ESPN.
Maracaibo, Venezuela, and Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, will meet today at 10:30 a.m. PDT for the International championship.
The winners will play in the World Series championship Saturday at 1 p.m. PDT.
Nathaniel Dunlap will start today for Northridge. Dunlap also throws the Agony. In fact, he taught it to Gentile two years ago.
“They both grip it with their thumb and pinky finger, and their other fingers are off the ball,” said Jon Gentile, Justin’s father. “The way Justin throws over the top, the ball has the same rotation as his fastball but tumbles down like a drop pitch.”
The pitch, in fact, was mistaken for a curve by several onlookers, including Springfield Manager Jim Hamilton.
“That kid fooled us all day with that slow curve,” he said. “I don’t know when I’ve seen so many strikeouts.”
Actually, 13 has been Northridge’s recurring number. Dunlap struck out 13 in a 4-2 loss to Brooklyn Center, Minn., on Monday night, and Peter Tuber struck out 13 in a 6-4 victory over Middleboro, Mass., on Tuesday, giving Northridge pitchers 39 strikeouts in 18 innings.
Dunlap, a 5-foot-11 right-hander whose fastball has been blocked at more than 70 m.p.h., was eligible to pitch Wednesday. And his teammates knew it.
“I went to (Manager Larry Baca) last night and told him that the other guys wanted Nathaniel to pitch, and that it was OK with me,” Gentile said. “But he told he had confidence in me.”
Gentile was not able to complete the first inning of the Western Regional final against Hawaii last week, leaving with the bases loaded and two out after giving up three runs. Northridge rallied to win, 17-7.
“That was the only time he’s had trouble all year,” Baca said. “The kid can pitch, and I told him that when he came to me last night.”
Gentile also helped Northridge score its first run.
In the third inning he followed a single by Michael Frost and a fielder’s choice by Gregg Wallis with a single past third base, setting up a run-scoring single by Dunlap.
Northridge added a run in the sixth when Matt Fisher scored on a sacrifice fly to center field by Frost. Fisher singled with one out and advanced to third on a single by Matt Cassel.
Gentile struck out at least two batters in every inning, and no runner reached second base after Miller advanced on a wild pitch in the first. Cassel dropped a short, hard throw from second baseman Frost with two out in the sixth, but Mike Fratoe flew out to left fielder Scott Drake Jr. to end the game.
TODAY’S GAME: Northridge vs. Springfield, Va., 1:30 p.m. PDT, on ESPN.