By Jeremy Thomas firstname.lastname@example.org
LIVERMORE – August 4th, 2014 — The undefeated team from a little border town in Arizona began its trip home Tuesday, a day after making Little League history and enjoying its moment in the national spotlight.
Behind hitting hotter than the Livermore evening and solid pitching that kept Puerto Rico’s batters at bay, the Nogales, Arizona, Little Leaguers dominated their international counterparts 11-4 on Monday night at Livermore’s Max Baer Park, winning their 13th consecutive postseason game and claiming Little League’s second Intermediate World Series title.
“We got to them, and they just didn’t let go,” said Nogales head coach Jorge Guerrero. “For our club, it doesn’t get any bigger than this. … It means a lot to our town. I don’t have words to describe it.”
Down 3-1 early, Nogales took a 4-3 lead in the third inning on a three-run blast to center field by shortstop Dustin Bermudez. The West Regional champions didn’t look back on the way to scoring 10 unanswered runs.
“I didn’t know that was going to happen,” Bermudez said of his crucial home run. “I was excited because it happened in the World Series. It was right in the sweet spot.”
Nogales pulled away in the fourth inning, scoring five more runs and taking an 11-3 lead into the fifth.
After the game’s final out, the players in yellow swarmed near the mound, where they doused their coach — and each other — in Gatorade. Whooping and hugging in jubilation, they acknowledged the chants from the Nogales crowd of “USA! USA!” and “Sí, se pudo!” (Yes, we did it!).
Nogales fan Jesus Ochoa, whose son “Chuy” plays for the team, said the whole community back home was pulling for their boys, showing the games on big screens in local sports bars. To represent the United States was a thrill for the team, he said, but the world championship was the “icing on the cake.”
“We knew it was going to be a hard game, but we felt we had to win,” Ochoa said. “It’s the first time in Nogales that we got this far. We’re very proud of all our kids.”
The series, which began July 29 and featured 11 teams — including international clubs from Curacao, South Korea, Canada and the Czech Republic — marked the second time the Little League has crowned an Intermediate Division champion. The division, officially instituted in 2012, allows boys and girls ages 11 to 13 the opportunity to prepare for high school baseball by playing games on a diamond larger than traditional Little League fields.
Both finalists came into the championship undefeated. Nogales, who had not lost a single game as a group this year, reached the game by beating Southeast representative Barboursville, West Virginia, in the first round, and taking two in a row over East champion Berlin, Maryland. International representative Samaritana LL of San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, earned a berth with wins over teams from South Korea, the Czech Republic and back-to-back victories over Latin American champion Pabao LL of Curacao.
The championship game was televised nationally on ESPN2 and drew an announced attendance of 9,942, pleasing tournament director Dave Wetmore.
“Overall, we had record-high temperatures that may have kept some people away,” Wetmore said. “But everyone’s been thrilled we’re back here again. I think it’s just going to grow and grow each year.”
Monday’s game drew onlookers from all over the Bay Area and beyond.
San Jose resident Angela “Borricua” Tirado came out to the ballpark to sing the Puerto Rican national anthem before the first pitch, and to support the team from her homeland.
“It’s really exciting,” Tirado said. “It’s not about whether you’re from the U.S. or from Puerto Rico; it’s all about the love of the game.”
While Little League International paid for the youths’ flights, food and lodging, parents had to pay their own way. Edgar Gomez made the trip from Juncos, Puerto Rico, to watch his son Adrian Rodriguez play.
“So many people came here to follow the tournament,” Gomez said. “I’m very happy to have been part of it.”
Even fans with no ties to either team came out to the ballpark. Swami Srinivasan, of Pleasanton, attended several games during the series, including the final, where he rooted for the American team with his 10-year-old son.
“You’re exposed to a much broader view of the baseball world,” Srinivasan said. “Here there is a microcosm of intense diversity. It broadens the talent pool for everybody. It can only be good for the game.”
fter receiving their championship banner and plaque, the Nogales Little Leaguers on Tuesday boarded a plane for home, where coach Guerrero said they would be welcomed with a parade in their honor.
“People are going to be waiting for us at the airport,” Guerrero said. “There are going to be some parties.”
Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.