08/29/2004 10:19 PM ET
Curacao Little League champion
California scores two in ninth, but it's not enough
By Kent Malmros / Special to MLB.com
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- An hour before the game, behind Lamade Stadium, families of the Curacao team joined hands in a circle and prayed.
|Curacao is just the seventh country to have a team win the Little League World Series. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
"We were thanking God for letting our kids be here," Dexter Martis, the father of Caribbean outfielder/infielder Charlton, said.
And, he added, they asked God to give their children strength Sunday night as they tried to become Little League World Series champions.
Three hours later, their prayers were answered, as the Caribbean defeated the West, 5-2, to win the 2004 LLWS.
Specifically, their prayers were answered, just as they have been all tournament, in the form of Carlos Pineda, Jurickson Profar and Jonathan Schoop.
Schoop -- who finished the tournament with a .529 batting average, including nine hits and five RBIs -- opened and closed the winning effort for the Caribbean, by driving in the team's first run and then later shutting the door on a late California rally from the pitcher's mound to notch a save.
The 12-year-old shortstop got his team on the board in the bottom of the first. After Curacao's second hitter, Gerson Adamus, walked, Schoop stepped to the plate. Adamus advanced to second on a wild pitch, then Schoop lined a run-scoring single to left field, plating Adamus.
"It was very important for us to score early," Curacao coach Michelangelo Celestina said, "because it was the first time we were in such an important game, and it's important to score first."
Two batters later, Profar supplied the game's big blow. Profar, who dazzled Mexico on the pitching mound in Saturday night's International semifinal with a one-hit, 12 strikeout performance, delivered what would be he game-winning hit for Curacao.
Profar began his at-bat against Thousand Oaks, Calif., starter Jordan Brower by fouling off the first pitch. He then drew even by taking a ball, before supplying the night's first fireworks for 34,550 at Lamade Field.
On the third pitch of the at-bat, Profar reached out of the strike zone, extending his arms into a Brower curveball. The ball left his bat with a high trajectory, and traveled long into the night, eventually landing over the left-center fence.
2004 Little League ···········
··············· WORLD SERIES
AUGUST 20-29 | WILLIAMSPORT, Pa.
Wednesday, Aug. 25
Curacao 9, Taiwan 8 (7 innings)
Richmond, TX 8, Morgantown, NC, 2
Thursday, Aug. 26
Mexico 6, Panama 2 (10 innings)
Thousand Oaks, CA 3, Preston, MD 1
Saturday, August 28
International Championship Game
Curacao 4, Mexico 0
United States Championship Game
Thousand Oaks, CA 4, Richmond, TX 0
Sunday, August 29
Richmond, Texas 5 Mexico 0
Curacao 5, Thousand Oaks, CA 2
The blast gave Curacao a commanding 3-0 advantage.
The lead was commanding because Pineda, who had supplied the team's offense so many times in the previous two weeks, turned in his own phenomenal pitching effort. Pineda, who also started in the Caribbean's 9-8 victory over Asia in the International semifinals, struck out 11 and walked just one batter en route the win.
"He was throwing hard," Celestina said when asked the key to Pineda's performance. "The speed that he has is unbelievable."
His dominance was particularly notable in the second and third innings when he struck out the side in each stanza.
In the second, he led off the inning by registering a quick out on California catcher John Lister, who was one of the team's strongest hitters in the tournament -- hitting .400, with three home runs and six RBIs. The 148-pound rightie fell behind Pineda early, 0-2. He then fought back to even the count at 2-2. But Pineda won the battle, painting the outside corner with a blazing fastball for strike three.
The 169-pound Pineda then sent both Cody Thompson and James Brady back to the bench after just four pitches.
"The key to my pitching performance was just concentration, and throwing strikes," Pineda said.
But, Pineda did get into a little trouble late in the game. In the sixth inning, after retiring California's leadoff hitter, Danny Leon, Pineda began to loose his edge. Sean McIntyre lined a double into the left-center, bringing Brower to the plate with a chance to keep the West alive.
He delivered a long home run to center field, to close the Caribbean gap to 5-2. Curacao manager Vernon Isabella quickly walked to the mound, and replaced Pineda with Schoop.
"I had faith in Carlos when he started the game," Schoop said. "But in the sixth inning, when he had 91 pitches already, and I came in, I had faith in God that I could close out the game."
California's rally was short-lived, as Schoop retired Tyler Karp on a lineout, then two batters later induced a ground ball from James Brady to first baseman Christopher Garia for the game-ending, unassisted putout.
With the victory, Curacao became just the seventh country to win a LLWS title. For a country of just 192,000 people, the win represents the first world championship of any kind, according Celestina.
"When we get home, the airport will be full," Curacao infielder Quincey van Blarcum said. "And I'll know a lot of people I didn't know before."
Kent Malmros is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.