River Ridge of Louisiana did everything it could in its last at-bat to beat Central East Maui with one big swing. But winning pitcher Jaren Pascual managed to escape.
With the bases loaded and the winning run at the plate in star hitter Marshall Louque, Pascual watched a lazy fly ball land in the glove of center fielder Kaleb Mathias for out No. 3 as the youngsters from Wailuku secured a 5-2 win in Friday’s opening round of the Little League World Series held in Williamsport, Pa.
The victory sends the West Region representative into the coveted winner’s bracket, where Maui will face Mid-Atlantic Region winner New Jersey on Sunday at 8 a.m. Winning the first two games in this double-elimination format is crucial in having a chance to advance to the championship matchups.
The Wailuku Little Leaguers rallied from an early deficit with a four-spot in the first as Pascual went the distance to get the victory. He struck out two and walked two while scattering nine hits. He also worked his way out of that bases-loaded jam in the sixth — how many hearts skipped a beat when losing Louisiana pitcher Reece Roussel yanked a potential game-tying homer foul in the final inning. He eventually singled to load the bases to set the stage for Louque. His fly out was pitch No. 84 for Pascual; just one throw shy of reaching the Little League pitch limit.
River Ridge, a Little League team located about 9 miles outside New Orleans, broke out on top with a two-out run in the first. After Roussel reached first on an error, he came around to score on an RBI single to left by Connor Perrot to make it 1-0. But that lead proved short-lived.
Much like their Southwest Region counterparts, the kids from Maui did some damage in the first with two outs and it was extensive. It all began with a single by Pascual that shot through the right side. An infield error and a hit batter by Roussel loaded the bases for Logan Kuloloia. He drove in the tying run by beating out an infield hit. That opened the floodgates. Nakea Kahalehau scored on a passed ball and Duke Aloy cleared the bases with a two-run single to give Central East Maui a 4-1 advantage after one.
The Louisiana team added a much-needed run in the fifth, thanks in part to the suspect play of the Maui outfield. A one-out single to left by Louque turned bad for Maui when left fielder Kuloloia let the hard smash get through him for a two-base error that put Louque on third. He scored when Maui right fielder Marley Sebastian slipped trying to field a dying fly by Gavin Berry that turned into an RBI double to make it 4-2.
Maui added a run in the bottom of the fifth with a two-out single to left by Mathias that scored Kuloloia from second. He’d had a one-out single to get things started. He moved to second on a single to center by Aloy as the bottom part of Maui’s order contributed to the win. Hitters six through nine in the order went 6-for-9 at the plate.