Preston breaks loose, wins Series debut, 7-2

Hitless through 3 innings, Md. team gets homer in fourth to defeat Kentucky

Youth Baseball

August 22, 2004|By Chris Masse | Chris Masse,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - Brady Hare smiled and lifted his catcher's mask high into the air as he walked onto the field for the start of the fifth inning yesterday at Volunteer Stadium, acknowledging the hundreds of Preston, Md., fans who had chanted his name for the previous few minutes.

Hare had just done what few people all year had done - record a hit against Owensboro, Ky., pitcher Cole Sturgeon.

More important, he had all but sealed Preston's first Little League World Series win.

Hare's two-run, fourth-inning home run was the highlight of his team's 7-2 win in its World Series debut. It also was Maryland's first hit and, with Davonta DeShields pitching a two-hitter, Hare's home run gave the Mid-Atlantic champions a 5-2 advantage their opponents couldn't overcome.

"As a confidence booster, it's great. We know we can play and be competitive here," Maryland manager Curtis Payne said. "When we heard the pitcher we're facing is probably one of the hardest throwers here, to get a win in a game like that is great for the kids and great for the fans."

Maryland (1-0), which had three busloads of fans packed into the stands behind the first base line, can clinch a spot in the U.S. semifinals with a win over Washington and a Texas win over Kentucky today.

Kentucky (0-1) lost for the first time in 19 games and must win against Southwest champ Texas this afternoon.

Hare drove his game-breaking home run over the right-center-field wall and chased Sturgeon, a left-hander who had allowed seven hits in 10 regular-season starts.

"It was right where I like it," Hare said. "It was high and outside." Sturgeon had allowed six hits and one earned run in 14 innings at the Great Lakes Regional, striking out 40. But yesterday, he never was able to settle into a groove, walking five and hitting four in 3 1/3 innings.

"He got behind all day long," Kentucky manager Vic Evans Jr. said. "It took away the mixing of his pitches. Basically, after the first inning he was mostly pitching fastballs and every once in a while we'd mix in a curve. You have to give them all the credit in the world. They were very focused and a lot more intense."

Kentucky's defense did not help Sturgeon during the first two innings. Two costly errors in each inning allowed three runs to score.

With Kentucky leading 2-1 in the bottom of the second inning, Sturgeon nearly pitched out of a bases-loaded jam. But with two outs, the center fielder dropped a fly ball from Hunter Bennett, allowing Maryland to score two runs and take the lead for good.

Kentucky struggled the rest of the afternoon and managed just one more hit off DeShields.

"When we made the error and dropped the baseball it cost us two, which was a big key in the game," Evans said. "I thought we got down a little bit.

Kentucky took its 2-1 lead in the top of the second on Nick Laster's RBI single and an error. But the Great Lakes champions could do no more damage against DeShields, who pitched a complete game and struck out nine.

The right-hander was struck on his left hand by a pitch from Sturgeon in the first inning. Thomas Howe came in to run for DeShields, but the pitcher did not miss any more time after that.

Payne said the injury caused DeShields some discomfort when he gripped his bat, but that the injury was nothing serious.

"It kind of scared me, but we came back and we started hitting," DeShields said. "I felt confident."

Kentucky 020 000 2 2 2 Maryland 120 22x 7 3 2

Sturgeon, Higdon (4) and Tanner. DeShields and Hare. W-DeShields, L-Sturgeon.

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