SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Chad Knight said he was on edge. It never showed as he laced the biggest hit of his young life.
Knight lined a run-scoring single to left field in the bottom of the seventh inning, and Westport, Conn., beat Northwest champion Sammamish, Wash., 14-13 in a wild game Friday to earn a spot in the U.S. championship game at the Little League World Series.
“I went to the plate and I was a little nervous, but then I realized it was just any other at-bat,” Knight said. “I just had to go out and put the ball in play. If we didn’t score, I knew Alex (Reiner) would get the next three outs and we would score in the eighth inning.”
Connecticut beat Sammamish for the second time in a week to advance to play Chula Vista, Calif., on Saturday for a berth in the title game. Tijuana, Mexico, will face Tokyo for the international title. The World Series championship is Sunday.
That crushing nine-inning loss to Chula Vista on Wednesday night was quickly forgotten when Knight’s ball landed safely, setting off a wild celebration near the pitcher’s mound at Howard J. Lamade Stadium
“I was really just speechless because for us to compete and battle back was just amazing,” said Knight, who also hit a solo homer to cap a seven-run rally in the fifth that tied it at 13. “It was our biggest comeback all year.”
The game marked the fourth time in Little League World Series history that two teams combined for 27 runs, and the 30 hits were the third-most in history.
Charlie Roof started the winning rally by drawing a leadoff walk and Ricky Offenberg hit a one-out double down the left-field line. With five Washington players manning the infield and playing in, Max Popken then hit a one-hopper that Washington shortstop Jack Carper stabbed with pinch-runner Christopher Drbal breaking for home.
Offenberg ran into Carper as the Washington player began to make a play for Drbal, who was tagged out in a rundown. Interference was called on Offenberg, leaving Drbal at third and Popken at first with two outs, and Knight followed with his winning hit.
I’m so proud of the kids, I can’t even tell you,” Washington manager Rob Chandler said. “We had extra infielders in. We were trying to do everything to win the game. Should I have walked Chad Knight? No, I shouldn’t have. I wouldn’t walk Knight if given a chance again, I would try to strike him out again.”
Washington scored 10 runs in the fourth on 11 hits to take what seemed like a commanding 12-5 lead, pounding a World Series record-tying eight straight hits off Connecticut starter Harry Azadian.
The barrage was stunning and matched the record set by Dominican Republic in 1992 and equaled by Chula Vista, Calif., in 2009.
Adam Carper, Dylan Matsuoka, Jack Carper, and Dalton Chandler each had RBI singles, and Will Armbruester added a two-run single. Zack Olson tripled home two more to complete the hit parade and also added a run-scoring double later in the inning.
“We stuck with Harry because Harry has always managed to pull himself out of it,” Westport manager Tim Rogers said. “Give them a lot of credit, they kept hitting. The kids never gave up, one pitch at a time, and that’s how we did it. We knew we could score, but of course, we didn’t want them to get that far ahead.”
Undaunted, Connecticut stormed back with seven runs in the bottom of the fifth, hitting three home runs to tie it at 13.
After Washington starter Chandler reached his pitch count and departed, Matt Stone singled, Matt Brown doubled off the left-field wall and 13-year-old Alex Reiner homered off Armbruester in relief. Reiner’s was a three-run shot and it was a surprise — it was the first of his Little League career.
Roof followed with a double off Jack Carper, Drew Rogers lined an RBI single to right, and Popken homered to right center. Knight followed with a long home run to left to tie the game.
“While it was going in, we were just yelling,” Offenberg said. “I don’t even think we were saying words. We were that excited. I don’t think I’ve been that excited.”
Connecticut scored three runs in the bottom of the third, helped by three Washington errors, to take a short-lived 5-2 lead.
It was an impressive showing by Westport, which somehow put Grant Holman’s game-winning, three-run homer for Chula Vista far in the rearview mirror.
“Being so close — at some point you’re going to lose. It would be rare not to,” Rogers said. “I expect them to compete and shake it off. I expect them to be competitive.”
In their first matchup in the World Series earlier in the week, Westport built a 9-2 lead over Sammamish through four innings, then hung on for a 9-7 win. Azadian had three hits and four RBIs in that one as Westport sent 12 batters to the plate and scored seven runs in the second inning.