SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — It was a moment between friends — two teams that have bonded over ping pong, video games and baseball during the past three weeks — when the winners gathered with the losers for a picture-taking moment Saturday at Lamade Stadium after the U.S. championship game of the Little League Baseball World Series.
Ocean View, representing Huntington Beach, California and the West Region, earned its spot in Sunday's championship game against Japan after an 11-2 victory against Big Sky Little League from Billings, Mont, the representatives from the Northwest
The California and Montana players had become friends when both won regionals in San Bernardino, then traveled together to Williamsport last week.
At 9 a.m. PDT Sunday, the Ocean View team will try and become the second California team in three years to win the title when it plays Japan, which beat Mexico, 5-2, in Saturday's International championship game.
Ocean View had lost to Big Sky, 1-0, Wednesday when Ben Askelson had a walk-off home run, but Saturday the West team seemed focused on scoring early.
Hagen Danner led off the game with a double and later scored. In the top of the second, third baseman Dylan Palmer walloped a two-run home run that ended up being the game-winner.
It was only Palmer's second hit in the World Series and his teammates pounded on his back when he came across the plate.
"That's my first home run of the whole All-Star season," Palmer said. "It's just crazy."
Danner, who was three for four, and Nick Pratto, who struck out 10 and also went two for four with three runs batted in, both spoke of what it meant to be the U.S. champion.
"It's a dream come true," Danner said. "Last year our team lost and we saw Hawaii win it and we thought if they made it, we could."
Nick Pratto, son of Manager Jeff Pratto, said he doesn't expect to feel the full impact of the win until he's back home.
"You can't describe it," he said. "Once you experience it, it's a lot better than what you imagined."
Nick Pratto had pitched four innings of shutout baseball against Big Sky during the first meeting and said he had learned from the experience.
"It helped me experiment a little," he said. "I knew what pitches to throw and where to spot my fastball."
After giving up one unearned run in the third inning, Ocean View scored twice in the fourth and fifth and four times in the sixth to take an 11-1 lead.
When Pratto reached his allowed pitch count after getting Connor Kieckbusch to strike out swinging, he moved over to first base and ducked his head in embarrassment at all the applause.
Big Sky Manager Gene Carlson said the difference between his team's 1-0 win and this loss was simple. "They did a better job of taking advantage of opportunities," he said.
Ocean View is trying to become the seventh California team in 65 years to win the LLWS and the second in two years — Park View of Chula Vista won in 2009. Japan, represented by a team from Tokyo, won last year's championship game over Hawaii.