SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Braydon Salzman's baseball cap can take a line drive off the bill. And Salzman's confidence wasn't knocked off-kilter either in the third inning when a whizzing hit made him momentarily woozy but left him with the determination to keep on playing.
Salzman was the winning pitcher and also went three-for-three from the plate as the Ocean View Little League team from Huntington Beach, the West champions, blasted Cumberland, R.I., winners from New England, 11-0 Friday in the Little League World Series at Lamade Stadium.
By winning the first game, Ocean View earns a day off Saturday and will next play at 3 p.m. Sunday against the North Oldham team from La Grange, Ky., winners of the Great Lakes region. North Oldham defeated Clinton County, Pa., the champions of the Mid-Atlantic region, 1-0, on Friday night.
In the bottom of the third inning, Rhode Island catcher Ryan McCormick hit a ball that was picking up speed when it left a bite-sized mark on the Ocean View pitcher's sweaty hat. It left a little mark on his forehead too and for a moment, Salzman dropped to the ground.
Ocean View manager Jeff Pratto said he didn't immediately rush out to the mound because he thought his pitcher had caught the ball.
“It hurt a little,” Salzman said. “But then I was fine.”
Ocean View combined 11 hits, flawless pitching and some nerveless defensive plays in the decisive first win.
Rhode Island manager David Belisle, while wishing his team had started the game more confidently, also said he didn't see many weaknesses with Ocean View.
“I like the way they play defense, the way they approach hitting and the first two pitchers we saw, they were excellent,” Belisle said. “They're going to be a team to be reckoned with. I think they would be one of my favorites to win this thing based on what I saw today.”
Ocean View, after scoring single runs in the first, second and fourth innings, put this first game away with a six-run top of the fifth that was a mish-mash of wild pitches and walks from Rhode Island and smart hitting by the West players.
The inning was started when Steven Kotkosky walked and Jason Mayorga followed with a double. Kotkosky scored on an error on the play and, one out later, Salzman's single scored Mayorga. From there the Rhode Island players seemed to slump their shoulders.
Salzman, who was also the winning pitcher, said he wasn't nervous at all though teammates Hagen Danner and Trevor Windisch both admitted to some butterflies early.
Pratto said he did see some signs of the big occasion affecting his team early.
“We were having trouble hitting their pitcher at first,” Pratto said. “We were nibbling too much on the outside. I saw guys a little tight in their swings. But our pitching kept us in the game until we settled down and got our bats going.”
And as for that pitch from Salzman that whacked him in the hat? “It was supposed to be a curveball,” Pratto said. “He threw a No. 5 instead. A flat curve. Didn't work.”
Almost everything else did though.