Despite four homeruns and a valiant comeback in the latter half of the game, Petaluma National was overwhelmed by a big hitting team from Tennessee and fell 9-6 in their first loss of the Little League World Series on Sunday.
In the first inning, with Austin Paretti catching and Danny Marzo on the mound, the Nationals, representing the Western region, allowed Tennessee to score two easy stolen runs after a series of walks, wild pitches and missed catches. Paretti punched his catcher’s glove in frustration as the second man trotted home, and the Petaluma family and friends section went silent in disbelief.
Marzo made up for poor pitching in the bottom of the first. He earned an RBI and set up a base runner situation that allowed the Petaluma Nationals to steal home, tying the game. Big hitter Bradley Smith (the decided star of the West’s opening game win against Connecticut) then drove a homerun well over the left field wall, pulling his team ahead to 3-2.
Bizarre events in the second inning caused confusion on the field, in the stands and even in the scoreboard controller room. Austin Paretti was involved in a hard collision with Southeast player approaching home plate, although not injured.
While coaches and medical staff checked on the shaken Paretti, who stayed down on his knees for some minutes, the crowd tried to discern whether or not Tennessee had in fact scored a run. The umpire’s call had been ambiguous. The crowd became restless, waiting for a definitive answer. It wasn’t until two minutes after the half-inning was over that the scoreboard finally confirmed that the Southeast was now winning 4-3.
Petaluma National was looking for a quick comeback, but was shut out in their next at-bat. Tennessee ended the inning with a double play.
In the fourth inning deep blue clouds rolled into Williamsport, threatening rain and darkening the field enough that the stadium lights switched on. With Quinton Gago now pitching, Petaluma allowed yet another stolen run after a wild pitch and missed catch. Halfway through the fourth inning, Tennessee was winning 5-4.
In the bottom of the fourth, Kempton Brandis wailed a homerun into center field, putting his team within one point. A mild fight ensued over the ball, but later in the inning, two members of the Brandis family made their way from their reserved seating on the first base line to the grassy hill behind the outfield, where they tracked down the current holder of the homerun ball. They persuaded the teenager to let them keep the ball as a souvenir, and the crowd blanketing the hill applauded, charmed by the encounter.
In the bottom of the fifth, Nationals tied the game when Porter Slate sent the ball over the centerfield wall. A member of the Petaluma family and friends section could be heard urging the boys on with a cheer: “Right guy, right spot, right now!”
But the Tennessee team rallied in the final inning. Jayson Brown hit a two-run triple down the right field line, and immediately afterwards Brock Myers smacked a two-run homer to earn his team a comfortable four-point cushion heading into the closing minutes of the game.
California’s Cole Tomei did his part to erase that deficit with a two-out homer, and for a moment there was still visible life in the West’s dugout and family section. But Logan Douglas then hit a grounder directly to the Tennessee short stop, and the game ended with the Southwest team still on top 9-6.
Despite the loss, the Petaluma Nationals—the first team to represent Northern California in the Little League World Series since 2002—still survive in the double elimination tournament, but they’ll have to be perfect from here on out if they hope to be crowned world champions.
Anthony Lackey, President of the Petaluma National Little League, who watched the game at Boulevard Cinemas, told the crowd afterward that he still likes the team's chances to battle back and stay in the competition.
"They've bounced back before," he said.
Eight U.S. teams and eight international teams are vying for the Little League World Series title, which will be decided in a final game on Aug. 26.
The Nationals' next game has been set for 1p.m. Monday when they play a team from Parsippany, New Jersey.
-Bay City News contributed to this report