SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — The Cumberland American Little League all-stars have made comebacks a summer-long staple.
Now they hope to stage their best comeback yet.
Braydon Salzman, Nick Pratto and Ryo Takada combined on a three-hit shutout and the offense produced up and down the lineup as California blanked Cumberland, 11-0 Friday at Lamade Stadium in Cumberland’s Little League World Series debut. The West champions, unbeaten this summer, move into Sunday’s winner bracket to meet either Clinton County, Pa. or La Grange, Ken.
Cumberland plays at 8 p.m. tonight against the loser of that Pennsylvania- Kentucky game.
Cumberland must win that game or its world championship hopes will be dashed in this double-elimination tournament. Cumberland also faces the daunting task of having to maneuver through the loser’s bracket to reach the U.S. final.
Still, Cumberland has never backed down from a challenge and do not expect that to change.
“We’ll go at it tomorrow with a more relaxed approach,” Cumberland manager Dave Belisle said. “I want them to be more aggressive. We were just off today. We’re a better team than we showed today. We were sloppy and we’re really not. We’ll pick that up tomorrow, I promise you.”
Despite the final score, the Cumberland families still were enthusiastically cheering on their team in the sixth inning and for minutes following the final out. More than anything, Belisle wants his players to remember that scene and those parents when they take the field tonight.
“I told them that they owe this next game to their parents. Their parents have sacrificed their whole summers. They’ve taken them where ever they’ve wanted to go,” he said. “The least they can do is behave the way they’ve behaved like the way they have since this began, like champions. I want them to play for their parents who have supported them so tomorrow you will see them playing with pride, I can tell you that. You will see a crisper game from us.”
Cumberland kept the game close for four innings against the California champions and trailed just 2-0 in the third when it mounted its most serious threat. Ryan McCormick hit a wicked-line drive back to the mound that nearly smashed Salzman in the face, reaching on a two-out infield single. Jacob Glod followed with a four-pitch walk, but Salzman painted the corner on a 3-2 pitch to Max Hanuschak, ending the inning with his fifth strikeout.
Haunschak pitched a solid game and, had it not been for some rare defensive lapses, he probably would have taken a shutout into the fourth inning. Hanuschak kept his team in the game despite battling both asthma and an anxiety attack. Belisle lifted him in the fourth inning, citing the health concerns.
“He pitched a good game,” Belisle said. “He fought hard and he should have had better results. If I had to pick my best player today it would be Max for sure.”
California scored the only run it needed in the top of the first when Hagen Danner tripled and came home on a Steven Kotkosky two-out RBI single. It added another run in the second, thanks to a costly throwing error that went into the left-field foul territory.
Jake Glod slammed a double to deep right field in the bottom of the first, but Salzman did not let him advance, striking out the next batter and then fielding a hard grounder to record the final out.
Austin Cabral pitched the final 2/3 of an inning for Cumberland and held his own, impressive since he had not pitched since playing in the rec league.
Because Belisle did not use any of his five relief pitchers for more than 20 pitches, all are eligible to pitch in tonight’s game.