By GENARO C. ARMAS, Associated Press
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — After a hard-earned victory Thursday, the team from Petaluma, Calif., got two days off to get ready for its next game at the Little League World Series.
Thirteen-year-old Austin Paretti had other plans.
"Swimming," the outfielder exclaimed with eyes wide open in anticipation.
The pint-sized Paretti and his teammates earned a little down time at the Little League complex pool after a 6-4 victory over Fairfield, Conn., on a sun-splashed opening day.
Japan also won its early game, 7-0 over Curacao, while Taiwan routed a team from Ramstein Air Base in Germany, 14-1.
In the late game, Goodlettsville, Tenn., beat Kearney, Neb., 12-1, behind 12-year-old pitcher Brock Myers, who struck out eight in 4 1-3 innings and helped himself at the plate with a two-run homer in the fifth.
Myers' big-league performance spoiled a historic moment for Nebraska — it was the first time a team from the state had advanced to South Williamsport.
Nebraska will play Connecticut on Saturday in an elimination game. Manager Brad Wegner will try to build confidence by focusing on the sixth inning, when Nebraska scored its only run on Zane Schmidt's groundout.
"I'm sure they're licking their wounds, but I'll tell them just move on and we'll get them on Saturday," Wegner said.
No matter what happens, Kearney's kids are already stars back home.
The mini-mashers from the Midwest have been receiving emails and text messages all week from family, friends and new-found baseball fans from all over Nebraska. Football is king in Nebraska, but the boys from Kearney might just be challenging the Cornhuskers as the state's most popular team.
Some players have been wearing Nebraska Cornhuskers T-shirts in practice.
"I think we do personally (have more fans) right now," coach Monte Dakan joked this week. "I'm hoping we have."
Tennessee manager Joey Hale is taking his crew to an amusement park before they next play on Sunday. His team's path to the series had them go through the Southeast regional finals in Warner Robins, Ga., to play the hometown Little League team and their vocal fans.
"It was nice not having the crowd not rooting against us for once," said Hale, who praised Georgia's passionate fan base — but prefers the more partisan crowd at Lamade Stadium.
California starting pitcher Bradley Smith made an impression, too, after striking out seven and going 4 for 4 at the plate with a homer and three RBIs to help the West region champs hold on against Connecticut.
The 13-year-old Smith strikes an imposing pose with his 6-foot-3 frame. But he had some early jitters on the mound after giving up a first-inning home run to Biagio Paoletta.
"You can't be nervous in these games. You're one of the top 16 teams ... in the world," Smith said calmly. "So I was thinking, 'What do I have to be nervous about?'"
He felt much better in the third after hitting a 2-0 curveball deep to left-center that just eluded outfielder Matt Clarkin's glove and just cleared the fence 225 feet away for a two-run homer and 3-1 lead. Smith also struck out seven over four innings.
But California couldn't shake Connecticut. Will Lucas tripled home a run before scoring on a passed ball to get Connecticut within a run in the bottom of the fifth.
Connecticut threatened again in the sixth, but reliever Andrew White got a double play and strikeout to end the game. The 12-year-old lefty pumped his fist after he left the mound to be greeted by giddy teammates.
The 5-foot Paretti, the smallest player on his team, came up big with a two-run single in the fifth.
"It's been amazing, it's just so exciting to play with teams all around and now we're in the same position," Paretti said. "Just seeing them (at the tournament) and now we're in the same position, it's really awesome."
Connecticut outfielder Ryan Meury left the game with a bloodied lip after getting by a pitch, but got an ovation after walking back to the dugout. A Little League spokesman said Meury needed a couple stitches to close the gash. It was unclear if Meury would be ready for Connecticut's next game Saturday.