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Sports

California team wins Little League World Series

The Associated Press
Published:   |   Updated: March 23, 2013 at 08:36 AM
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -

They're celebrating in the San Diego suburbs thanks to a little league team from Chula Vista.

"It seems San Diego comes so close all the time. The Padres come close and don't win. The Chargers come close and don't win," manager Oscar Castro said after his team from the small city in southern California rallied to beat Taiwan on Sunday and claim the Little League World Series title. "It was nice to do it for the city."

Bulla Graft's sharp single scored the go-ahead run in the fourth inning and Kiko Garcia pitched three-plus scoreless innings of relief to lead the boys from Chula Vista back from a three-run deficit for a 6-3 victory.

With the partisan crowd standing, Garcia closed out the victory by striking out Yu Chieh Kao - prompting chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!"

"We knew we could come back," the 13-year-old Garcia said in between laughs with his teammates. "We always do."

It was the fifth straight Little League championship for the United States. Garcia and the boys wanted to head to their favorite restaurant in southern California for their customary post-victory meal including fries and tacos.

After a wild celebration around Garcia, the Californians invited Taiwan to accompany them on the customary victory lap around Lamade Stadium on a sun-splashed afternoon.

Castro sought to shield his team from the pressure of the tournament as they advanced, forbidding them to surf the Internet for the last three weeks to prevent them from seeing the media exposure back home.

Victory on Sunday looked in doubt early after Wen Hua Sung and Chin Ou hit back-to-back homers in the third to give Taiwan a 3-0 lead.

California scored a run in the third and surged ahead in the fourth. Seth Godfrey drove in a run on a sacrifice fly before Nick Conlin scored on a wild pitch.

Even Vice President Joe Biden, who attended the game, was impressed, standing and clapping as his three granddaughters looked on.

Later, Taiwan walked slugger Luke Ramirez with two outs to bring up Graft. The 12-year-old second baseman hit a 1-1 pitch to right to score Andy Rios from third.

Taiwan loaded the bases in the fifth off two hit batters and a walk, but Garcia escaped the jam after getting Ou to ground into an inning-ending double play. Rios, playing shortstop, snagged the bouncer, tagged the runner going to third before throwing to first to get Ou.

"It was just instinct to tag the runner, he was right in front of me," the 13-year-old Rios said. "They had all the momentum with the bases loaded, but I gave us the momentum with the double play."

California added two runs in the fifth, more than enough cushion for Garcia.

The boys threw their gloves high in the air after Kao struck out, then gathered near the mound and fell into a pile on the ground.

"It's just an amazing feeling," the 12-year-old Godfrey said. "We went for it, and we did."

Ou, who started for Taiwan, baffled California early with breaking balls before the team rallied in the fourth inning.

California didn't homer Sunday, following through on Castro's philosophy to hit line drives, not the long ball. Castro said it took his boys one time through the order to figure out Ou.

Garcia, who led the team by hitting .667 with three homers and eight RBIs for the tournament, said the team never lost confidence.

"We knew we could hit any kind of pitching," he said.

Taiwan's coaches declined to speak with reporters afterward, instead choosing to lead their players across the field back to their dorms, with equipment bags in hand.

They walked right past giddy California boys on their hands and knees, scooping up plastic bags of infield dirt as a memento of their big win.

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