SAN BERNARDINO — One swing set the tone for Friday's Little League Baseball Western Regional semifinal game between Ocean View and Napa National.
And it was a big one.
But just barely.
Armando Duarte provided the first-inning fireworks at Al Houghton Stadium in San Bernardino, a grand slam that sparked Ocean View to a 5-2 victory. The win sends Ocean View into the regional championship game at 5 p.m. Sunday against the winner of today's late-night second semifinal game between Waipio (Hawaii) and North Scottsdale (Arizona).
The winner of Sunday's game advances to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA.
Sunday's regional final will be televised by ESPN2.
"The kids did a great job today," Ocean View Manager Tod Minato said.
Ocean View had the first crack on offense and five batters into the game, Duarte hit his grand slam to give the Southern California regional champions a quick 4-0 lead. Duarte's shot to right field just did clear the fence - and clung just inside the foul pole by about five feet.
Five feet, or five inches: it only mattered to Minato that it was in fair play.
"Armando's grand slam in the first inning gave us the ability to play relaxed," Minato said. "That was huge. I thought he was a little too much on his front foot, but Armando has a lot of power and he hit it well."
Duarte said he never looked at the ball when it left his bat. His only concern, he said, was getting down the base path.
"I just put my head down and started running," he said. "When I saw that it went over the fence, it was unbelievable. That was the first grand slam in my life."
Duarte's slam allowed Ocean View to force Napa National to play catch-up and atoned for a 5-4 loss the locals suffered at the hands of the Northern California champs Tuesday.
That loss prevented Ocean View from going 4-0 in pool play in the six-team regional. Instead, Ocean View, Napa National and Waipio all finished pool play at 3-1. Waipio earned the No. 1 seed in the semifinal round and Ocean View got the No. 3 seed.
Ocean View beat Waipio, 2-1, Saturday, but didn't play North Scottsdale in pool play.
"We had a lot of motivation," Minato said of Tuesday's loss to Napa. "We felt we gave that game away a little bit. We wanted to show that we were better than that."
Ocean View was much better than that.
Asked what the difference was between Tuesdays' loss and Friday's win, Minato said, "Steven [Gingery] pitched."
Napa National couldn't touch Ocean View 's long-haired lefty, Gingery, for the first five innings. Napa mustered just one hit during that time, a single by its starting pitcher, Aaron Shortridge, and that came with two out in the bottom of the fourth.
Gingery had thrown 69 pitches in the first five innings and recorded his 10th strikeout when he fanned Napa lead-off hitter Cal Bard to end the fifth.
Napa finally got to Gingery in the bottom of the sixth when Gabriel Reyes, Dahlen Benere and Shortridge hit consecutive singles to load the bases. Napa scored its first run when its next batter, Joe Canepa, hit into an RBI fielder's choice.
Gingery said he was a little tired, but that it didn't affect him in the sixth.
"I wasn't really nervous at that point. I just wanted to get through the inning," he said.
After Napa got its first run, Gingery got Michael Jankiewicz to chase a high pitch for strike three for the second out, and then fielded a bunt by Lopez and fired to Nick Pratto at first to end the game.
In Ocean View's first at-bat, Chad Minato singled, Pratto reached base on an error and Gingery was hit by a pitch to load the bases, setting up Duarte.
The score stood at 4-0 until the top of the sixth when Pratto took an 0-1 pitch over the right-center field fence to increase Ocean View's advantage to 5-0.
Ocean View out-hit Napa, 6-4. Duarte also singled and doubled and Michael Gates singled.
Both teams committed one error.
The Ocean View players said they'd watch today's second semifinal game.
They know that just one game stands between them, and Williamsport.
"It feels like Williamsport is so far away," Tod Minato said. "The game on Sunday will be our 21st game together as a team. It wears on you. It's a long road. To tell you the truth, the kids don't even think about Williamsport. It's still too far away - literally, it's far away."
Ocean View Little League last reached the Western Regional championship game in 2000. That year, Ocean View lost a 3-2 heartbreaker to Hazel Dell Little Leauge of Vancouver, WA., in the final.