California rallies from 3 down for crown

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Andy Rios couldn't wait to get home to Southern California to have some french fries.

There's a big victory meal upcoming back in Chula Vista.

Bulla Graft's sharp single scored the go-ahead run in the fourth inning and Kiko Garcia pitched three-plus scoreless innings of relief to lead California to a 6-3 victory Sunday over Taoyuan, Chinese Taipei to win the Little League World Series.

With the U.S.-partisan crowd on their feet, Garcia closed out the victory by striking out Yu Chieh Kao, completing a comeback from a 3-0 deficit. The California fans yelled "USA! USA."

"We knew we could come back," said the 13-year-old Garcia in between laughs with his teammates. "We always do."

They're surely celebrating in the San Diego suburbs after California secured the fifth straight Little League championship for the United States.

After a wild celebration around Garcia, the Californians invited Chinese Taipei to accompany them on the customary victory lap around Lamade Stadium on a sun-splashed afternoon.

But the championship banner belonged to California.

"It seems San Diego comes so close all the time. The Padres come close and don't win. The Chargers come close and don't win," manager Oscar Castro said. "It was nice to do it for the city."

Castro sought to shield his team from the pressure of the tournament as they advanced, forbidding them to surf the Internet for the last three weeks to prevent them from seeing the media exposure back home.

Victory on Sunday looked in doubt early. Wen Hua Sung and Chin Ou hit back-to-back homers in the third to give Chinese Taipei a 3-0 lead.

California scored a run in the third before surging ahead in the fourth. Seth Godfrey drove in a run on a sacrifice fly before Nick Conlin scored on a wild pitch.

Even Vice President Joe Biden, who attended the game, was impressed, standing and clapping as his three granddaughters looked on.

Later, Chinese Taipei walked slugger Luke Ramirez with two outs to bring up Graft. The 12-year-old second baseman hit a 1-1 pitch to right to score Rios from third.

Chinese Taipei loaded the bases in the fifth off two hit batters and a walk, but Garcia escaped the jam after getting Ou to ground into an inning-ending double play. Rios snagged the bouncer, tagged the runner going to third before throwing to first to get Ou.

"It was just instinct to tag the runner, he was right in front of me," the 13-year-old Rios said. "They had all the momentum with the bases loaded, but I gave us the momentum with the double play."

California added two runs in the fifth, more than enough cushion for Garcia.

The boys threw their gloves high in the air after Kao struck out, then gathered near the mound and fell into a pile on the ground.

After the game, the boys were asked what they wanted to do when they got home. Rios, flashing a mischievous grin, raised his hand and said he wanted to go the team's favorite restaurant for the customary post-victory celebration. Rios and Godfrey longed for fries, while Garcia wanted tacos.

"It's just an amazing feeling," the 12-year-old Godfrey said. "We went for it, and we did."

Ou, who started for Chinese Taipei, baffled California early with breaking balls before the team rallied in the fourth inning.

California didn't homer Sunday, though the club followed through Castro's philosophy to hit line drives, not the long ball. Castro said it took his boys one time through the order to figure out Ou.

Garcia, who led the team by hitting .667 with three homers and eight RBIs for the tournament, said the team never lost confidence.

"We knew we could hit any kind of pitching," he said.

Chinese Taipei's coaches declined to speak with reporters afterward, instead choosing to lead their players across the field back to their dorms, with equipment bags in hand.

They walked right past giddy California boys on their hands and knees, scooping up bags of infield dirt as a memento of their big win.