California wins Little League title in wild fashion

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California wins Little League title in wild fashion

From Comcast SportsNet Monday, August 29, 2011

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) Nick Pratto made his father proud and helped California win the Little League World Series.

The way Pratto threw his helmet in the air and skipped around first base after his game-winning single, it was hard to tell the 12-year-old first baseman had done anything wrong Sunday in the first place.

The boys from Huntington Beach were all smiles after Prattos solid liner to center with the bases loaded and two outs scored pinch-runner Eric Anderson for the winning run in a 2-1 victory Sunday over Hamamatsu City, Japan, to take the tournament title.

California returned the World Series title to the United States with the type of victory even the big leaguers dream about. A U.S. team has won six of the past seven World Series, with Japans win last year the exception.

It has a nice ring to it, Pratto said when asked what it was like to be called a champ.

It was a fitting end to a tense game marked by excellent pitching and timely defense.

Braydon Salzman pitched a complete-game three-hitter for the win and struck out nine. Japan starter Shoto Totsuka struck out five over 4 1-3 innings, giving up a homer to right to California slugger Hagen Danner.

The teams exchanged handshakes at the plate before Californias giddy players posed at the mound with their new championship banner.

My team is physically smaller than most of the teams. We didnt think we would get to this stage, Japan manager Akihiro Suzuki, who fought back tears after the game, said through interpreter Kotaro Omori. All of the players did such a wonderful job to get to this stage.

Nicks father, manager Jeff Pratto, said after winning the U.S. title on Saturday that the World Series championship would be a no-pressure contest.

That changed in the third, when Japan flashed trademark hustle to scratch out the games first run after Seiya Fujita singled to left.

Pinch-runner Kaito Suzuki moved to second on a bunt and raced toward third with no one covering. The throw from Pratto at first bounced into foul territory, allowing Suzuki to score easily.

Probably when my son threw that ball away, Jeff Pratto said when asked when he started feeling pressure. It was half-and half. Our shortstop didnt get to third and cover.

When he got to the plate, the skipper added, in my head, Im thinking this is a chance to redeem himself.

Did he ever.

With runners on first and second, an error by Japan shortstop Gaishi Iguchi on what could have been an inning-ending double play loaded the bases for California. After a force play at the plate, Pratto smacked the single to center off reliever Kazuto Takakura that scored the winning run.

Pratto said it was great to have his father as his coach, but he kind of gets on my nerves sometimes.

First pitch was delayed more than three hours after the outer bands of Hurricane Irene brought more rain than expected to the Williamsport area.

The result was bad, but they really tried their best, Akihiro Suzuki said. Todays weather was difficult for us to get used too. If the weather was like this in Japan, we wouldnt have played.

The clouds finally started parting midway through the game, and sunshine draped the complex by the time the California players left the stadium to cheers by friends and family.

Neither team could convert on several chances to break open the pitchers duel earlier in the game.

With runners on first and second in the top of the sixth, third baseman Dylan Palmer blocked the bag from sliding Japan runner Ken Igeta on a bunt play to help get California get out the inning.

California put runners on first and second with two outs in the fifth, but Takakura got a flyout to end the inning.

Playing right field in the second, Takakura also made a running catch on a fly down the line to save an extra-base hit with a runner on second.

In a gracious gesture, Japans players and coaches lined up and exchanged high-fives with the California kids after Huntington Beach did the traditional victory lap around the stadium warning track.

Its just a dream come true, Danner said. I never thought we would be in that spot, let alone winning it.

Marcus Smart will get start for Celtics for injured Isaiah Thomas

Marcus Smart will get start for Celtics for injured Isaiah Thomas

As expected, Marcus Smart will get the start for the Boston Celtics tonight against the Orlando Magic in place of the injured Isaiah Thomas. 

Thomas, who leads the Celtics (12-9) in scoring (26.0) and assists (6.2) this season, suffered a right groin injury in Boston’s 107-106 loss at Houston on Monday.

Head coach Brad Stevens explained his decision a few minutes ago.

“He’s started a lot of games here in the past as a point guard,” Stevens told reporters. “He’s basically our sixth starter. It wasn’t one that I had to think a ton about.”

Starting Smart also allows second-year guard Terry Rozier to continue in his role coming off the bench. 

Whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, Smart’s production has been consistent. 

In the five games he has started this season, he has averaged 10.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. 

His numbers off the bench are almost identical with Smart averaging 9.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists as a reserve. 

Stevens also mentioned that Amir Johnson would be back in the starting lineup in place of Jonas Jerebko. Earlier in the day, Stevens told reporters the decision to start Jerebko on Monday was strictly because of the matchup with Houston. 

“We have to be able to be flexible in doing that,” Stevens said. “Houston plays four guards. We didn’t feel like we could defend them unless we switch one through four. I thought he (Jerebko) did a pretty good job. This (Orlando) team is different than Houston other than both are super-hot.”

Orlando (10-12) has won four of its last five games in part because of its size, strength and versatility along the frontline which includes Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic who now comes off the bench. 

And while the Celtics have benefited heavily from the play of their guards, obviously that plan will be amended tonight with Thomas out. 

“He (Thomas) generates a lot in the open offense what we call flow, spread offense,” Stevens said. “So some of those type of things you may not generate at the same rate. But certainly there are other ways that we’ll look to play when he’s not in the game normally, or when we’re trying to play through bigs in the post. You have different ways to play within all your schemes. Hopefully we can play to each other’s strengths and go from there.”