SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Jorge Romero put Mexico in front with one big swing, and then he finished the job from the mound.
Romero hit a two-run homer in the top of the seventh, and Tijuana, Mexico, rallied past Aguadulce, Panama, 4-2 on Thursday night to earn a berth in the international championship game at the Little League World Series.
Jorge Rodriguez reached on a bunt single before Romero connected against Edgardo Rosales, sending a drive over the wall in center.
“I was just thinking my job was to get a hit and get on base so I could score a run,” Romero said.
The rain-delayed victory set up a rematch between Mexico and Tokyo, Japan on Saturday.
The second game on Thursday’s slate between Westport, Conn., and Sammamish, Wash., for a berth in the U.S. final against Chula Vista, Calif., was moved to today at 3 p.m.
Mexico went ahead 2-1 in the fifth. Brandon Montes led off with a long drive to left-center for his fourth World Series homer, and Alex Artalejo added an RBI single.
Panama scored on a pair of sacrifice flies by Jordan Agrazal in the first and fifth innings.
“It was a big game and the kids did their best,” Panama manager Luis Gonzalez said. “They battled back the final inning. It’s a team that won 26 games, and Panama should be proud of them.”
The game was delayed for 95 minutes in the seventh, and Panama threatened in its final at-bat after play resumed.
Jean Mar Sanchez led off with a single to center, and Juan Crisp had a base hit with one out. Agrazal was ruled safe on a grounder to second when first baseman Luis Corral was late covering, but the call was overturned after a video replay as Mexico’s boisterous fans roared in approval.
That put two runners in scoring position, but Romero struck out Rafael Eysseric swinging on a 1-2 pitch to end it. Romero then threw his glove hard to the ground and was mobbed by his teammates near the mound.
“I was confident we were going to get the out,” Romero said. “I had been throwing good fastballs. I knew if I could throw strikes we were going to get him.”
The first meeting between the teams last Sunday was short. Montes went deep on the fifth pitch of the game, and Ramon Mendoza added two of Tijuana’s five home runs in a 13-0 rout that went only four innings. The game was stopped because of Little League’s 10-run rule.
Daniel Fernandez was the starter for Panama in that one and recorded just one out, allowing two runs and two hits. He had another shaky beginning in this one, but settled down in a hurry this time.
Fernandez walked the first three batters he faced, and a couple of visits to the mound by Gonzalez didn’t seem to have much effect. But with a teammate already throwing in the bullpen, the left-hander wriggled out of the jam.
Fernandez struck out Mendoza and got Axcel Mandujano to line to third baseman Armando Lopez, who stepped on the bag for a double play.
Mexico starter Brandon Meza also struggled, and he wasn’t so lucky.
Meza walked two of his first three batters. With runners at the corners after a wild pitch, Agrazal turned on a changeup and hit a sacrifice fly to left field, with Sanchez barely beating the throw home. Crisp was doubled off first on the play to end the inning.
Fernandez continued to shine in the second against the powerful Tijuana team, striking out three and walking one as his pitch count mounted.
“It was a game we expected,” Mexico manager Francisco Fimbres said. “Even the first time we still knew it was going to be a hard team to beat.”
Panama loaded the bases with one out in the third on two walks and an error caused by some heads-up baserunning by Sanchez. He ran in front of the shortstop, blocking his view of a grounder.
Meza got out of the jam by striking out Edgardo Rosales and retiring Tomas Sarmiento on a hard grounder to third.
Meza struck out the side in the fourth and Montes led off the fifth with a tying drive over the wall in left-center. Fernandez reached his pitch count after retiring the next batter and departed, and Mexico scored again.
Saul Favela reached second on an error and Artalejo singled between shortstop and third for a 2-1 lead.
Sanchez singled off Meza leading off the bottom of the fifth as the Mexican starter also reached his pitch count. Fernandez then laid down a bunt and was ruled safe at first on a close play. Mexico challenged and the call was overturned, eliciting groans from the Panama fans.
It proved costly when Crisp followed with a single up the middle, but Panama tied it at 2 on a long sacrifice fly to center by Agrazal.
“I tried to motivate the kids during the rain delay. It wasn’t lost yet,” Gonzalez said. “We tried to get the win. We couldn’t, but we tried.”