Texas wins Junior League World Series in Taylor

The young baseball players from El Campo, Texas, were not happy just to be in Taylor, Michigan, for the 26th annual Junior League World Series. Their goal was the world championship.

On Saturday at World Series Field in Heritage Park, the USA Southwest champions won the world title of the 13- and 14-year-old division of Little League baseball with a 2-1 victory over the Mexican national champions from Guaymas, Sonora.

El Campo scored two runs in the first inning, rode the arm of unbeaten pitcher Matthew Hamman and survived a seventh-inning rally to win its first World Series and the third for a team from Texas.

“We play one game at a time,” said Texas Coach Mark Van Gorp. “When we came into the tournament, we were not satisfied with being at the World Series. We were playing to win.

“That’s what’s real special about these boys: They’re committed to playing the game of baseball, they know what it takes to be champions and they did everything correct. I thought we were as calm as could be before the game started. We were focused and played our game.

“You can tell in the boys’ eyes they have done something that no one else has done, especially in El Campo. It’s just a great feeling. I wouldn’t change it for anything – I really wouldn’t.”

Texas’ first two batters of the game reached base and scored what would be all the runs needed to win. Holden Whitley walked, advanced to second on a balk by Mexico pitcher Judas Gallardo, moved to third on a single by Hamman and scored on a single by Landon Appling. Hamman and Appling then executed a double steal, with Hamman scoring to make it 2-0.

Hamman, who was 11-0 in postseason play, took a two-hitter into the last inning. In the seventh, Mexico’s Abel Bocardo was hit by a pitch and went to third on a double by Jose Mayoral. Jose Meza walked to load the bases with nobody out. After Alfonso Hernandez struck out, Luis Figueroa hit a sacrifice fly to centerfield, scoring Bocardo. It was the only earned run allowed in 20 innings of pitching by Hamman.

The Texas pitcher struck out Gallardo to end the game.

It was the third win in Taylor for Hamman – tying a World Series record. The eight batters he struck out brought his three-game total to 27 (in 20 innings) – another series record. The previous mark of 25 was set in 1992 by Donald Caesar of Lake Charles, Louisiana.

The combined 50 strikeouts by Hamman and teammates Andrew Kinder (20) and Whitley (three) set a team record. The previous record of 46 was set by last year’s world champions from Panama City, Panama.

Hamman said the team had all the confidence it needed to succeed.

“I knew we were going to beat them,” he said. “I knew we were going to pull it out. Championship games are our best games. I just had faith that they were going to make the plays behind me. I had faith in my God. I knew He was going to be there for me and I thank Him very much.”

Appling, the El Campo catcher, batted a series-high .706 (12-for-17). Kinder was 9-for-18 and knocked in a team-leading 10 runs. Hamman scored nine times.

“It was awesome,” Appling said. “Matthew and Andrew pitched really good throughout the tournament and we hit the ball really good. It means a lot to take it back home to Texas.”

El Campo was the first team from the USA Southwest region to win a world championship in the Junior League since the region was created in 2002. Teams from Spring, Texas, won the world title in the 1991 and 1996 when the state was part of the USA South region.

This year, El Campo won the Texas East state championship, then took the USA Southwest title with a 7-2 win over Texas West champ and arrived in Taylor with a 17-1 record.

In USA pool play in the World Series, El Campo was 3-1, defeating USA West champ Pearl City, Hawaii (9-0); losing to South champ Alexandria, Virginia (11-9); and beating Central champ South Bend, Indiana (5-1), and East champ Upper Deerfield, New Jersey (10-0).

In a rematch with Hawaii for the USA pool championship, Texas won again, 4-0, to earn a shot at the world title. Kinder struck out nine in the four-hit shutout.

This was the 20th anniversary of the first year Mexico first played in the World Series, but the first time since 1999 that a team from that country played in the finals. It was the fourth appearance in the World Series for a team from Guaymas. Only one team from Mexico has been world champion of Junior League baseball. The Lugo Montes IMSS of Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico, won the title in 1988.

This year, the Mexican national champions split four games in the International Pool. They defeated Nepean, Ontario, Canada, 7-2, and Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany, 6-3, but lost to Maracaibo, Venezuela, 6-0, and Jakarta, Indonesia, 6-3.

Despite the 2-2 record, the Guaymas Little League managed to finish second in the bracket and earned the right to face Venezuela for the pool championship on Friday. The underdog Mexican team rose to the occasion and stunned the previously unbeaten Latin American champions with a come-from-behind 6-4 victory in eight innings.

Trailing 3-0 heading into the top of the sixth, Mexico scored two on a single by Mayoral, who led his team with a .467 batting average. In the next inning, the Guaymas boys took a 4-3 lead on a sacrifice fly by Daniel Castro and a run-scoring single by Luis Valdez. After Venezuela tied the score in the bottom of the seventh, Mexico won it in the top of the eighth on a sacrifice fly by Alfonso Hernandez and an RBI single by Gallardo.

Despite falling short by a run in the world championship game and finishing 3-3 for the series, Manager Javier Lopez said he was proud of his team.

“This was a beautiful experience for us,” Lopez said through an interpreter. “We were told we wouldn’t take the championship back to Mexico. They gave us a game. We put all of our hearts into every play. I am very proud of this team. I am very happy that they were able to compete for the championship.”

NOTEBOOK: A crew from ESPN taped Saturday’s world championship game for broadcast at 3 p.m. August 30 on ESPN2…

Greg Bzura, founder and director of the World Series for all 26 years, said the excellent weather and great baseball made for fun days and nights at World Series Field in Heritage Park.

“I do believe this was the closest thing to perfect,” Bzura said. “We did not have a single human problem. Every team was great. It ended on a positive note with the game that it was. We had such a good week and some great crowds.”

The Junior League World Series is the “big brother” of the more famous Little League World Series, which is under way in Williamsport, Pennsylvania…

Barry Larro of New Jersey won the Home Run Derby on Saturday. Larro led his team with a .571 batting average (second best in the World Series), had one home run and six runs batted in during the series…

Ed Montegue of Santa Rosa, California, received the Chuck McAllister Award as the series umpire of the year. Montegue has been umpiring Little League baseball games for 21 years. All World Series umpires are unpaid volunteers…

Mexico will have to win the Latin America championship next year in order to return to Taylor. The national champions of Mexico and Puerto Rico alternate automatic berths in the World Series. Next year will be Puerto Rico’s turn. The odd team out competes in the Latin America regional tournament…

Saipan of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands played in Taylor five straight years (2001-2005) as the Asia-Pacific champion. Jakarta, Indonesia, snapped that streak this year and became the first team from Indonesia to play in any world series.

Pearl City, Hawaii – which made its third straight appearance this year – hopes to return to Taylor again in 2007 as the USA West region champion.