LITTLE LEAGUE

Big Sky All-Stars squeak by California into U.S. championship

2011-08-24T21:17:00Z 2011-08-25T09:50:27Z Big Sky All-Stars squeak by California into U.S. championship

Story by SUSAN OLP

Photos by paul ruhter

Of The Gazette Staff

The Billings Gazette

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Against the predictions of all oddsmakers, the Big Sky All-Stars won their semifinal game at the Little League World Series on Wednesday night 1-0 against the West Region champs from Huntington Beach, Calif.

The extra-inning victory puts the players in the U.S. championship game on Saturday at 1 p.m. Mountain time. Big Sky will play the winner of Thursday night’s loser-out game between the Oceanview All-Stars from Huntington Beach, Calif., and the “hometown” favorite Keystone All-Stars from Clinton County, Pa.

The winner of Saturday’s game will face the winner of the international bracket in the World Series Championship on Sunday, also at 1 p.m.

Asked at a news conference after the game if he was surprised by the victory, Big Sky manager Gene Carlson said yes, but he reiterated the philosophy he’s carried throughout the World Series.

“We just play it one game at a time, one pitch at a time,” he said. “If things go our way, so be it.”

He also had a simple answer for the agenda for the next couple of days: “Practice, practice, practice.”

Both teams played great defense, keeping the score 0-0 until the seventh inning. Little League games are usually six innings.

In the bottom of the seventh, left fielder Ben Askelson stepped to the plate, and after one strike, banged the ball over the left-field wall for a home run.

After the sudden end to the game, the Big Sky fans erupted into cheers, tears and hugs.

“I am just overwhelmed and happy for my son and all these boys,” said Rosanne Askelson, Ben’s mom. “We always have hope because we know Ben can hit, and in my heart of hearts, I knew he could do it. And he did it.”

Dave Maehl, whose son Andy played catcher, said the victory was unbelievable.

“It’s amazing, these kids just keep doing it. They’re our heroes,” he said. “They just find a way every single game to get it done.”

“It’s an amazing game,” said Erin Zimmer, mother of third baseman Patrick Zimmer. “I am just thrilled for these kids. They never give up, and everybody contributed. It was awesome.”

Several rows of family and friends sat together in their gold-and-black jerseys in the bleachers above the first-base line. The Montana fans spent the game calling encouragement to the players on the field.

A group of bare-chested young men often started the crowd cheering. With good defense on the part of both teams, the game was often tense for the fans.

Big Sky players Zimmer, second baseman Connor Kieckbusch, pitcher Cole McKenzie and Askelson joined Carlson at the news conference.

Asked about his homer, Ben said he was thinking curveball right before the ball was pitched to him, and that’s what he got. He said as soon as he hit it, he knew it was a home run.

Carlson praised the Oceanview team’s effort.

“We knew they were a tough team,” he said. “We knew they had pitching we probably hadn’t seen in a while, we knew they had good hitters top to bottom.”

Carlson said he and his team would probably be in the stadium on Thursday night to watch California play Keystone. The boys said they were rooting for the Huntington Beach players, whom they became friends with in San Bernardino, to win Thursday night.

Wednesday night’s victory puts the Big Sky Little League All-Stars’ record at 20-1 since the start of the All-Stars season. The team surprised a lot of people by becoming the first team from Montana to win the Northwest Region championship in San Bernardino, Calif.

Then, in the World Series, the team became one of only four undefeated teams, winning its first two games against the Midwest champs, the Harney All-Stars from Rapid City, S.D., and the Southwest champs, the All-Stars from Lafayette, La.

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