European edition, Monday, July 30, 2007

KUTNO, Poland — Ryan Al-Bawab stroked a three-run home run in the first inning Sunday, and Andrew Issa followed one batter later with a two-run shot that propelled Saudi Arabia to a 7-1 victory over England champion London in the championship game of Little League Baseball’s Transatlantic Regional.

The five first-inning runs were more than enough to make a winner of Saudi starter Ted Fitzmaurice, who allowed seven hits and struck out six in going the six-inning distance.

“We were just trying to get a lead,” said Saudi center fielder A.J. Otis, who singled just ahead of Al-Bawab’s line shot over the center field fence.

The outburst all but assured Fitzmaurice a return trip to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., and his team’s eighth straight appearance there.

Saudi, which as usual cruised through this regional undefeated, made the International semifinals last year at Williamsport. But Saudi manager John Fitzmaurice said his squad will be hard-pressed to duplicate that success this time.

“Williamsport is a whole different level,” he said. “Last year, we had seven returnees. This year, we have one. We’re very young.”

Young, but strong. In addition to the clouts by Al-Bawab and Issa, Otis launched a towering shot over the left field fence with the bases empty in the fifth. It was his third round-tripper of the tournament and his team’s 11th overall.

Saudi catcher Beau Branton continued his solid play here, banging out a single and double, two of the champs’ 12 hits on the day, and flying out deep to right in three trips to the plate.

In the third, Branton picked a London base runner off third with the bases loaded and one run in. It was the last time any London runner would advance as far as third base.

As the lone Saudi returnee, the younger Fitzmaurice can tell his 2007 Saudi All-Star teammates what the next level’s like.

“The whole country’s watching you,” he said. “Every year there’s something new.”

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