The Kaiserslautern Military Community All-Stars moved into Friday’s championship game of Little League Baseball’s European Regional Tournament with a 7-4 semifinal victory Thursday over Ukraine at Kutno, Poland.
It was the second victory over Ukraine in the tournament for KMC’s 11-12-year-old champions of Germany, but in this one - unlike their 13-0 victory Saturday in pool play - the All-Stars had to dig deeply.
“Nick Notgrass came in with the bases loaded and no one out in the sixth,” KMC coach Eric Vincent said by telephone Thursday. “He struck out the first batter and got the second to fly out to center. Nico (DeCosta) caught the ball and threw to second to double up the runner who had strayed too far off base.”
Notgrass, who pitched two scoreless innings against Ukraine earlier in the tournament, came on in relief of Tyler Woodberry, who hit a batter and walked two to open the inning.
Levi Keltz pitched the second, third and fourth innings for the All-Stars, who lifted ace Justin Wilson in the first to keep him under 20 pitches for the day and thereby eligible to pitch in Friday’s finale.
“It was a total team effort,” Vincent summarized.
It had to be, because unlike that previous game against Ukraine, KMC’s power hitters, No. 3 Wilson and No. 4 Woodberry, who victimized the Ukrainian hurlers for four home runs – three of them by Woodberry – last time around, were kept in the yard on Thursday.
“Wilson came up with the bases loaded and struck out,” Vincent said, “and Woodberry came up with the bases loaded and struck out.”
All told, KMC, averaging just under 11 runs per game coming into Thursday’s semifinal, stranded a total of 14 base runners.
“The bottom of the lineup came through today,” Vincent said, citing the efforts of Tristan Waring and Ryan Jimenez. He added that DeCosta rapped out two solid hits, and Wilson drove in two runs.
The victory was the 13th straight for the All-Stars, who went 4-0 in the district tournament, 2-0 in the Germany tournament, and are 7-0 so far in the regional. The All-Stars will try to make it 14-0 on Friday against the winner of Thursday’s late semifinal between defending European champion Netherlands and Italy, a team KMC bested 13-8 on in pool play on Monday.
Friday’s title game has been moved to 11 a.m., swapping times with the third-place game, now scheduled for 3 p.m. The European champion advances to the Little League World Series, Aug. 16-26 in Williamsport, Pa.