(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Carriker’s homer in bottom of eighth gives Georgia Little League title 3-2 over Japan
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — Dalton Carriker couldn’t believe it. He had just hit a home run to win the Little League World Series.
“I almost fainted,” the 12-year-old shortstop with braces said after his eighth-inning blast gave Warner Robins, Ga., a thrilling 3-2 win over Tokyo on Sunday to win youth baseball’s biggest prize.
“Wow, I never thought this could happen,” Carriker said.
His dramatic homer over the right-field wall off Japan’s Junsho Kiuchi gave the United States three straight Little League championships.
“USA! USA!” cried the Georgia-partisan crowd as dozens of fans waved American flags. Columbus, Ga., won the crown last year, and Ewa Beach, Hawaii, in 2005.
“I’m very honored to be associated with these young men,” an emotional manager Mickey Lay said. His eyes welled with tears during a post-game news conference.
“There are only several times in your life, when people come into your life and touch you emotionally,” he said, “and they get into your heart and never leave.”
Jubilant Georgia players hugged Carriker as he reached the plate following the homer. Lay lost his hat after joining the team in celebration following a tense game marked by excellent pitching.
Georgia reliever Kendall Scott struck out 10 and allowed one hit over five-plus innings to quiet Japan’s bats after Georgia fell behind 2-0 early.
Scott had watched Japan’s impressive hitters throughout the tournament.
“Going out there today, throwing the ball, I was scared to death on the first pitch,” he said.
Scott left the game in the top of the eighth, with Zane Conlon getting the last out.
That set up Carriker’s homer. He was hitting .769 in the World Series entering Sunday’s game, but was 0-for-2 with a walk when he came up in the eighth.
He said a little prayer before settling himself in the batter’s box.
“God, please give me the strength to get a hit and help my team out,” Carriker said in recounting his prayer.
There was no doubt about his opposite-field shot off Kiuchi, which easily cleared the right-field fence 225 feet away from the plate.
Japan manager Youichi Kubo, who managed Japan to the 2001 Little League crown, tried to console his pitcher afterward.
“I told Junsho that when you are a reliever these things can happen,” Kubo said through a translator. “I told him that he has a bright future and not to let this homer affect that.”
After exchanging handshakes with players from Japan, Georgia players took hold of the championship banner, their proud parents snapping pictures from the stands.
Warner Robins kept the trophy in the state.
The previous two Georgia teams to advance to South Williamsport also won the title, including Columbus last year and East Marietta in 1983.
Also, the United States’ three-year title streak is the longest since 1959-1966, an eight-year stretch of American victories.
“I’ll remember every second of this,” Carriker said. “This has been crazy.”
Scott struck out the side in the top of the sixth, fooling Japan hitters with his curveball. He pumped his fist as he headed to the dugout after getting Kazutaka Kato swinging.
But Georgia couldn’t come through in the bottom half with a runner on first and one out.
Kiuchi struck out Taylor Lay and Nick Martens to send the title game into extra innings for the first time since Hawaii beat Curacao 7-6 in seven innings in 2005.
Japan starter Ryo Kanekubo pitched three-hit ball through five innings before being pulled after reaching Little League’s 85-pitch limit.
He was buoyed by a small but vocal fan club whose rhythmic cheers and bright red hats made them stand out in a crowd heavily favoring the Americans.
It didn’t prevent Japan from reaching out to Georgia. Before the game, the team gave Warner Robins a listing of the players’ names and addresses so they could keep in touch, Lay said.
“You couldn’t help, but like them,” Carriker said. “They didn’t deserve to feel like that after this game. We both played great games.”