Texas eliminates Auburn at Little League World Series

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Powerful Pearland, Texas played small ball before Mason Van Noort’s bat gave them a huge boost.

Now the sluggers from the Southwest are headed to the U.S. final of the Little League World Series.

Texas overcame an early 4-0 deficit with four runs in the sixth, including Van Noort’s tiebreaking blast to left, for a dramatic 7-5 win Thursday over Auburn.

“Amazing,” said a smiling 12-year-old Jaron Roblyer, whose homer in the fourth gave Texas its first run. “We’re one of the best two teams in the United States.”

They’ll play for the U.S. title Saturday against either Waipahu, Hawaii or Columbus, Ga., who will have a rematch Friday after Hawaii’s 7-4 win Thursday night.

Pinch hitter Justice Nakagawa’s three-run homer to right-center in the third gave Hawaii a 5-0 lead and Waipahu staved off elimination. Noah Shackles struck out nine and allowed four hits over five-plus innings.

Kobie Buglioli had two RBIs, and Georgia scored three runs in the sixth before reliever Keolu Ramos ended the game by getting a groundout.

The international final Saturday is already set with unbeatens Japan and Taiwan playing for the right to move on to the World Series championship game Sunday.

For now, the Texans may relax and relish a come-from-behind win after staying away Wednesday night from the recreation room at the players’ complex to concentrate on their make-or-break game.

“We don’t want to do anything stupid that makes us lose a game or something, stay up too late, or get up too early to go to the rec room,” Roblyer said.

He’s earned a break after the team’s come-from-behind performance.

After moving runners to second and third in the sixth off a couple wild pitches, Texas tied the game off a single and RBI groundout before Van Noort sent a 3-2 pitch over the left-field hedges for a 6-5 lead.

The 12-year-old pitcher allowed the first two runners to reach base in the bottom of the inning, but Texas got some nifty defense and threw out two runners at third. The first came after shortstop Beau Orlando went to third for a force on a grounder; the second after centerfielder Matthew Bettencourt threw a strike to get Hudson Byorick following what would have been a sharply-hit single.

Bettencourt jumped up and down in the outfield after the play while Pearland’s dark blue-clad fans cheered in delight.

“I tried to make a throw right on line, and it was,” the 12-year-old outfielder said.

“Nice,” manager Mike Orlando interjected with a grin.

With his team trailing by two, Washington manager Kai Nahaku said he was yelling for Byorick to advance.

“We were confident coming into the bottom of the inning because we had hit well earlier in the game,” he said. “The shortstop made a great play to save a run for the first out and the base running error probably cost us another run.”

Things looked bleak for Texas early after Washington scored in the first off its own brand of small ball, getting infield singles and looking for every opportunity to take an extra base.

After singling, Ikaiku Nahaku tried to advance and drew a throw that glanced off the second baseman’s glove to allow Tyler Tan to score the first run. Dillon O’Grady made it 4-0 after singling, advancing on a passed ball and stolen base, and scoring on another passed ball.

But Washington’s run of staving off elimination — they had won three straight entering Thursday after a tournament-opening loss — came to an end.

“They’ll probably be over it in 20 minutes, then I think all that they accomplished will start to sink in,” Kai Nahaku said.

Hawaii avoided elimination, with Nakagawa providing the big blast that ended up scoring the decisive runs. His teammates couldn’t stop laughing when Nakagawa tried to answer a question about his momentous night.

A game after Hawaii managed just one hit in a 6-4 win over Ohio, Waipahu had 10 hits Thursday night. Manager Brian Yoshii spoke to the team after Wednesday’s win.

“We talked to the kids about the embarassment of one hit … and that we need to show up,” he said.

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