SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Ben Askelson hit a massive home run in the bottom of the seventh inning Wednesday night to give Big Sky Little League a 1-0 win over Ocean View in the U.S. semifinal of the Little League Baseball World Series.
"It's better to lose tonight than in an elimination game," Ocean View Manager Jeff Pratto said. "We just didn't hit the ball."
Ocean View, the West champion from Huntington Beach, must play that elimination game at 5 p.m. PDT Thursday against local favorite Keystone Little League team from Clinton County, Pa., a team that drew more than 40,000 in its opening game last week. Big Sky, the Northwest champion from Billings, Mont., will play for the U.S. championship Saturday.
Ocean View had outscored its opponents, 21-0, in its first two wins and had 23 hits in those games, but Wednesday the West team could only manage three hits.
"It's a little emotional," Pratto said, "but to tell you the truth we're excited to come out (Thursday) and play. We've been sitting around too much."
Pratto's son, Nick, had been nearly unhittable in his four innings. He struck out nine Montana batters and gave up only two hits. He needed just 12 pitches to strike out the side in the first inning.
Ocean View loaded the bases in the top of the second and didn't have a hit. Justin Cianca reached on an error by the Montana third baseman, Braydon Salzman walked and Jason Mayorga was hit by a pitch.
After a strikeout, Montana pitcher Cole McKenzie threw a wild pitch but covered home plate and Cianca was tagged out at the plate for the final out. That failure to convert turned out to be the trend for the game.
Nick Pratto had a nervous moment in the bottom of the fourth when he gave up a one-out double to McKenzie. McKenzie moved to third when Askelson grounded out to second base, but Pratto struck out the next batter, and as he ran to the dugout, did a tiny fist pump to celebrate his ninth strikeout.
But after Salzman pitched two good innings in relief, the end came quickly.
On the second pitch of the seventh inning, Askelson powered out his home run over the left-field wall off a curveball from Salzman.
Assistant coach Jose Martinez, whose son Anthony is on the Ocean View team, called the loss "a little devastating," but Jeff Pratto said he expected his team to come out hitting Thursday.
"I think they're going to love playing in front of the big crowd," Pratto said.