SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — A rematch with the Billings Big Sky All-Stars turned into a comfortable win for the Little Leaguers from California.
The reward for the boys from Huntington Beach? A picture at the pitcher's mound with the U.S. championship banner and a berth in the World Series title game Sunday against Hamamatsu City, Japan.
Starter Nick Pratto struck out 10 and had three RBIs at the plate, and California built an early three-run lead to cruise to an 11-2 victory over Billings on a cloudy, dreary Saturday at Lamade Stadium.
They'll return to the same field to play for the World Series crown against Japan, which took the international bracket earlier Saturday with a 5-2 win over Mexicali, Mexico. Game time was moved up three hours to 10 a.m. MDT in hopes of avoiding precipitation from Hurricane Irene, which was barreling up the East Coast.
The Hamamatsu City mashers hope to defend the title won last season by a team from Tokyo.
Three nights after losing to Billings, 1-0, California won its second straight elimination game and a rematch with the boys from Montana. The two squads became fast friends after rooming together during regional play, with players from each side wondering what a trip to South Williamsport would be like.
Only California will get to experience what it's like to play for a title, and they left the outcome of the rematch in little doubt after the fourth inning.
After an RBI groundout in the first, Pratto hit a two-run double in the fourth to help give California a 5-1 lead.
Montana added a run in the sixth after 13-year-old slugger Cole McKenzie's prodigious blast, a homer that landed well beyond the 225-foot fence in center field and on to the brown, muddy hill.
But the California boys did a collective bear hug behind the mound after reliever Trevor Windisch got a force play at second to secure the game's final out.
In a friendly gesture, the California players later lined up along the first-base line to applaud the Montana team and its fans, before inviting the Montana players for a postgame group picture near the mound.
A community celebration for the Big Sky All-Stars has been set for Saturday, featuring a parade and gathering at Dehler Park.
Japan beats Mexico to get to LLWS title game
Japan is headed back to the Little League World Series championship game.
Yoshiki Suzuki struck out seven and Mitsuhiro Uchida and Asuya Otsuka each had two hits to lift Hamamatsu City past Mexicali, Mexico, 5-2 Saturday to win the Little League international championship.
Mexico rallied to within three runs in the fifth on Jorge Jacobo's RBI triple, but Jacobo was thrown out on the next play on a defensive gem after Suzuki covered home on a weak grounder. Suzuki took the throw from his catcher and blocked the plate for the out to save a run.
Japan never trailed after taking a 2-0 lead in the third.