Venezuela comes up big, wins Little League World Series, 4-3

August 28, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Venezuelan right-hander Cesar Hidalgo zipped strike three past Michael Frost last night for his 10th strikeout. As that pitch settled into catcher Guillermo Quiroz's mitt, the Little League World Series was won by a Latin America country for the first time in 36 years.

Venezuela defeated the U.S. national champions, from Northridge, Calif., 4-3, in a rain-interrupted game that finished under the lights at Howard J. Lamade Stadium.

Hidalgo dropped to his back on the mound and his teammates came from every direction to pile on. The celebration was on. Soon they would be carrying the Venezuelan flag on a trot through the outfield.

Amid the mayhem, rotund Luis "Porky" Mejias, a coach for the Venezuelan team, attempted a somersault that went awry.

"This is very important to our country," said Ramon Diaz, manager of Coquivacoa Little League of Maracibo, Venezuela. "Venezuela has never won this."

In addition to making a 10-K run through the Northridge lineup, Hidalgo contributed a pair of infield hits and received ample offensive support from teammates.

Venezuela outhit Northridge, 8-3, and came out of a lengthy rain delay better than the team from Southern California.

The game was a scoreless tie when a hard rain forced a stop in play with two outs in the top of the third inning. The rain delay lasted three hours and five minutes. The lights were on by the time the game resumed.

Credit the Williamsport Fire Department with an assist. Firefighters used their pumps to free the dugout of water and helped to drain the playing field.

Northridge, dubbed the Earthquake Kids because many of the players' houses were damaged by a Jan. 17 quake centered in Northridge that registered 6.8 on the Richter Scale, lost its edge during the delay.

Pitcher Justin Gentile, who uses his fastball to set up his diving palm ball, otherwise known as "The Agony Pitch," lost his control during the delay and threw five wild pitches.

Hidalgo, who threw almost exclusively fastballs, pitched a three-hitter, walked one, and hit one batter. Spencer Gordon hit a home run to center field off Hidalgo to bring Northridge within 4-3 in the fifth inning, but the hard-thrower did not allow another runner to reach base from that point.

Venezuela had broken from a 2-2 tie with two runs in the fifth. Leadoff hitter Esteban Avila (2-for-3, two RBIs) played a big part in both runs.

He singled in the tie-breaking run and boldly scored from third base on a wild pitch, arriving at the plate ahead of catcher Matt Cunningham, who made a diving attempt at a tag.

In the third, Venezuela turned four hits and one wild pitch into only one run, driven in by Avila, to break a scoreless tie. Cunningham threw out one runner attempting to steal second base and picked another runner off second to prevent a big inning.

Venezuela turned an error by Northridge shortstop Matt Fisher, Hidalgo's bunt single, and a pair of wild pitches by Gentile into a run that made it 2-0 in the fourth.

Northridge caught up in the bottom of the inning scoring two runs on shortstop Effinson Mora's throwing error.

Hidalgo, the same boy who earlier walked off the mound to first base to shake the hand of Peter Tuber and apologize to him for hitting him with a pitch, momentarily lost his composure after allowing two unearned runs. He hurled his cap into the dugout and hurled words of frustration at Mora.

Hidalgo had no complaints about the defense played by third baseman Erik Villalobos, who made the play of the day with a run-saving catch in the first inning. Fisher scorched a line drive with runners on first and second and Villalobos dove to the line to catch it, drawing an "ah" from the crowd.

Northridge manager Larry Boca said he thought his team flattened out during the lengthy rain delay. Both teams returned to their rooms to wait out the rain while fans turned the hill above the diamond into a mud slide.

An crowd of 35,000 watched the start of the game, but the gathering was much smaller when the game resumed.

"It was hard to maintain the intensity," Boca said. "I know I fell asleep myself."

The Venezuelans return home today with the knowledge they had returned the Little League World Series title to Latin America for the first time since Monterrey, Mexico, won consecutive titles in 1957 and 1958.

The Northridge players returned to ready themselves for school, which starts Wednesday. Five players on the team have book reports due Wednesday.

"I'll probably shoot myself tomorrow," Boca joked. "This whole thing has been like a trip to Las Vegas and every time I rolled the dice everything came up right for us. It's been great fun for the kids."

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