Ocean View crowned kings of the world

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Bases loaded, two outs, one 12-year-old boy digs his foot into the batter's box and there it is, a moment little boys from all over the world dream about.

With the championship of the Little League Baseball World Series on the line, in a game that had been tied since the third inning, stoic Nick Pratto hit a two-out single, a game-winner, a dream-maker.

Pratto's hit in the bottom of the sixth inning gave Ocean View Little League a 2-1 victory against the Japanese team from Hamamatsu City on Sunday in front of 11,950 at Lamade Stadium, making world champions out of the team from Huntington Beach.

This is the sixth time in the last seven years that the U.S. has won the title, but the first time a team from Orange County became world champion. Japan had won last year over a team from Hawaii.

This baseball game meant so much that Japan Manager Akihiro Suzuki wept afterward. As he rubbed his chin with shaking hands, Suzuki said, "After the game you welcome the team with a smile. My team is physically small, but they all did an excellent job."

But this game meant just as much to the Ocean View team, which represented the West Region.

It survived a 1-0 loss to underdogs from Montana and experienced a small earthquake and a portion of Hurricane Irene during its 11-day stay here.

And Ocean View had to come from behind Sunday with the help of a massive home run from starting catcher Hagen Danner after Japan had manufactured a run in the top of the third inning.

Sunday's starting pitcher Braydon Salzman shook off the physical shock of almost having his head knocked off in his first start last week when a line drive took a chunk off the bill of his baseball cap, not to mention the emotional shock of giving up a walk-off home run in Ocean View's only loss.

However, he didn't let himself get rattled Sunday when his teammates committed a couple of errors.

"Braydon went beyond the call of duty," Ocean View Manager Jeff Pratto said. "He was very efficient, changed speeds, was able to hit a spot when he needed. That's what you have to do to beat Japan."

After Nick Pratto's game winning-hit, he was quickly at the bottom of a pile of squirming teammates. "I was claustrophobic," Nick Pratto said. But he also said being called world champion, "Has a nice ring to it."

Danner said he never thought he'd be in this place, either. "It's a dream you have," he said.

Each of the three Sunday stars — Danner, Nick Pratto and Salzman — weren't afraid to admit to having nerves.

"Yeah," Danner said, "in the last inning, when the bases were loaded and they threw to home so we had two outs."

"I felt it," Salzman said.

"I was just thinking, 'Oh God, Oh, God, oh God,' before I was getting into the box," Pratto said of his final at-bat. "But once I got into the box I calmed myself by telling myself to just look for a good pitch."

Japan took the first lead in the top of the third inning after Ocean View had stranded three runners in the first two innings. Japan's run was unearned because of a throwing error when Japan was aggressively running the bases and bunting.

But Danner gave his team just the lift it needed in the bottom of the inning. He fouled off one pitch, then hit the next for a home run.

"That was vital to get back that quickly," Jeff Pratto said. "Basically, (coach) Tony Martinez said, 'We're even, guys. OK, it's a three-inning ballgame now. It's 0-0 and we play three innings to win.' And that's what we did."

There had been plenty of chances for nerves before Sunday's game. On Saturday night, in anticipation of the arrival of storms related to Hurricane Irene, game time was changed from noon PDT to 9 a.m. PDT. But it was raining Sunday morning and the first pitch didn't come until 12:40 PDT.

While Suzuki said the delays and the wet conditions at the start of the game seemed to bother his team, Jeff Pratto said all the disruptions didn't matter at all.

"We're a pretty loose bunch," Jeff Pratto said. "We were towel-snapping each other when we were getting our uniforms on. Our local chaperones said they never saw a team as loose as us."

Salzman giggled. He agreed.

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