Northridge, Calif., had two ways to qualify for the Little League World Series semifinals: Beat Springfield, Va., or rely on a mish-mash of numbers to settle a tiebreaker.
It took the easy way.Justin Gentile used a palm ball to fool Springfield batters Wednesday night, giving up but one hit and striking out 13 as Northridge took a 2-0 victory.
"You don't want to sneak in," Northridge manager Larry Baca said. "They would have rather got in by winning. We would have felt bad getting in 1-2."
The victory left both Northridge and Springfield with 2-1 records in the round-robin portion of the tournament. They'll meet again today to determine which plays Venezuela or Saudi Arabia in Saturday's title game.
"They'll be ready tomorrow. I don't have to bring anything up," Springfield manager Jim Hamilton said. "There's not a question in my mind that they can hit."
Venezeula and Saudi Arabia will meet first in the international bracket. Saudi Arabia stunned Taiwan 3-2, keeping the Far East champions out of the finals for just the second time in 19 World Series appearances.
Under the Little League tiebreaker, Northridge could have advanced only by winning or keeping Springfield from scoring five or more runs in a six-inning game.
Gentile made sure Springfield wouldn't put up big numbers.
"If he's on, he throws off-speed stuff that's tough for the batters to pick up," Baca said. "He pitched against my team (in a California league) and he drove us crazy."
Springfield already had locked up a berth in the semifinals.
Northridge scored its first run in the third when Gregory Wallis reached on a fielder's choice, moved up on Gentile's single to left and scored on Nathaniel Dunlap's single to left off Patrick Malatino.
The Californians loaded the bases in the sixth on singles by Mathew Fisher and Matthew Cassel and a walk to Peter Tuber. Michael Frost hit a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Fisher.
Gentile fanned the first two batters in the sixth and, after Malatino reached on an error, Mike Fratoe flied out to left.
The hopes of Middleboro, Mass., stayed alive briefly after Daryl Bradford hit a grand slam in an 11-5 victory over Brooklyn Center, Minn., Wednesday afternoon. Middleboro would have advanced had Northridge lost and given up more than five runs.
In Saudi Arabia's victory, Ronald Baptiste struck out 10 and had a two-run homer. Also Wednesday, Venezuela beat Glace Bay, Nova Scotia 3-0 in a game that had no bearing on the tournament.
Baptiste's two-run home run in the third gave Saudi Arabia a 3-1 lead, but on the mound he had to work himself out of jams when Taiwan put runners in scoring position in the last five innings.