Mexico pitcher Santiago Leija threw 11 strikeouts and his teammates took full advantage of four Coquitlam errors to defeat the local Little Leaguers representing Canada, 5-0, Friday at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn.
Canada will now play Italy in Saturday’s second round. The representatives from the Europe-Africa region were thumped 20-0 by Japan, who will be Mexico’s next opponent.
Leija allowed only two hits as he pitched all six innings. And while Mexico’s hitters were also limited to just two hits by a trio of Canadian pitchers, they were able to convert the home team’s miscues into runs.
The troublesome signs started early for Canada, as the ace of the team’s pitching staff, Matthew Shanley, filled the bases and threw 31 pitches in the top of the first inning. And while he was able to escape unscathed, the team never seemed to be able to get off its back foot from there.
Mexico scored its first run in the top of the third inning. Pinch hitter Jesus Garza looped a single into shallow right — the team’s first hit of the game. He advanced to second when Shanley threw a pitch into the dirt that eluded catcher Everett Bertsch. Another wild pitch got him to third and then he scored on a ground out to first by Angel Castillo.
Meanwhile, Coquitlam’s Little Leaguers, whose bats powered them to provincial and national championships, couldn’t get purchase against Leija’s 70 mph+ pitches, as he struck out six in a row at one point.
“He was throwing hard,” Canadian manager Bruce Dorwart said of Leija after the game. “He was buckling our kids.”
Shanley’s early struggles on the mound caught up with him in the top of the fourth, as he reached the Little League mandated 85-pitch limit and was pulled from the mound in favour of Timothy Piasentin following a walk to Mexico’s third batter of the inning.
Dorwart said Shanley’s exit hurt the team.
“They weren’t able to keep up to our pitcher,” he said.
Piasentin managed to get out of the inning, but Canada’s bats remained dormant as Leija increased his strikeout total to eight.
With the score still 1-0 for Mexico heading into the top of the fifth inning, Canada booted themselves into a bigger hole by committing two errors that led to two more runs.
Dorwart said nerves played a roll.
“We’re a team that plays clean ball, and it’s a big setting,” he said. “I could see my boys were tight.”
Despite the miscues, Canada seemed ready to spark to life in the bottom of the inning as Sean Duncan got a lucky break, reaching first base on a bunt that eluded the Mexico catcher after he inadvertently kicked Duncan’s discarded bat into the rolling ball, knocking it away from his grasp. And while Duncan was able to get into scoring position with one out, two more strikeouts by Leija left him stranded.
“It was tough to get a run off him,” Dorwart said of the overpowering Mexican pitcher.
With Brady Dorwart on the mound for Canada to begin the sixth inning, the team’s fielders again struggled to hang onto balls. Two more errors by infielders allowed two more Mexico runs to score.
The 5-0 lead was too much for Canada, as Leija retired the side on ground outs to the infield.
"I knew it was going to be a tough test for us," Dorwart said, as he and his team look ahead to their game against Italy on Saturday at 3 p.m. PT.
Local fans don't miss a beat despite network glitch
A glitch by Canadian broadcaster TSN didn’t diminish the enthusiasm for a small crowd of Coquitlam Little League supporters, players and coaches at Mackin Park Friday to cheer on their team at a public viewing party put on by the organization and the city of Coquitlam.
In fact, some of the kids just used the time they waited for the network to switch to the game’s live feed from a UFC weigh in to act out some of their own Little League World Series fantasies by playing impromptu games of pitch-and-catch.
Sharon Perry, a parent with two kids who play baseball, said even though the players from Coquitlam are wearing red and white Team Canada uniforms, they’re still Coquitlam Little League green-and-gold at heart.
“It’s totally go Coquitlam,” she said. “It’s an amazing opportunity.”
Her husband, Jason Perry, said whether the kids win or lose, the experience of getting to Little League baseball’s biggest showcase will serve them well and motivate other kids in the area to pursue their own dreams.
— With files from Stefan Labbé