SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Many of the 20,000 fans who watched the Eastlake Little League all-stars from Sammamish fall way behind Westport, Conn., were stunned when they mounted a furious comeback.
Sammamish manager Rob Chandler was not.
He has grown accustomed to watching his all-stars make big comebacks and find ways to win. They almost did it again Sunday in the Little League World Series at Lamade Stadium.
Despite trailing by eight runs in the third inning and losing ace pitcher Jacob Dahlstrom to a second-inning injury, Sammamish had the tying runners on base in the fifth and sixth innings before losing, 9-7.
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“I was expecting it,” Chandler said. “These guys have done it six times before. The fifth inning seems to be their rallying cry. They put a pretty good punch together. They just came up a little short.”
Sammamish drops into the loser’s bracket and needs a win Monday against Urbandale, Iowa, to stay alive at the Series. Connecticut advanced to Wednesday’s winner’s bracket final and plays Chula Vista, Calif., a 15-3 winner over Newark, Del., on Sunday night.
Dahlstrom’s status for Monday’s game is uncertain. The starting pitcher and cleanup hitter was injured in the second inning after taking a wicked line drive off his right knee. Dahlstrom lay on the ground for a few minutes writhing in pain before rising to his feet and being helped off the field.
Chandler said Dahlstrom has a deep bruise and was receiving ice throughout the game. He was on crutches afterward as a precaution and will be evaluated Monday.
After Dahlstrom departed, Connecticut erupted, scoring seven runs and taking a 7-0 lead that it extended to 9-1 an inning later when winning pitcher Harry Azadian hit a two-run home run.
“When something like that happens you get into a situation where you have to come together as a team and battle as a team,” Chandler said. “But he’s our ace, and so to see him go down is tough on these kids.”
Still, Sammamish did pull together and started fighting back, scoring six runs in the fourth and fifth innings. The reserves delivered big, combining for five hits and four RBI. Jack Rud replaced Dahlstrom in the lineup and went 2 for 3 with a double and two runs.
Six straight hitters reached base to start the fifth inning as Sammamish scored four times and pulled within 9-7. Austin Oh and Jack Matheson hit consecutive RBI singles to highlight the rally.
Moments later, though, Connecticut catcher Matt Stone threw out a runner trying to steal third for the first out and momentum switched as reliever Alex Reiner retired the next two hitters.
Sammamish put two runners on in the sixth as well, but Reiner ended the game with a strikeout, putting a full-count pitch on the outside corner.
“Give a lot of credit to (Sammamish),” Connecticut manager Tim Rogers said. “They could have checked out and given up, but they competed until the end.”
In other games Sunday, Mexico beat Panama, 13-0, and Japan beat Taiwan, 3-2.