BANGOR, Maine – Despite having both their manager and starting catcher suspended for the 2013 Senior League World Series Championship Game, the team from Panama representing Latin America would come out on top.
Luis Alonso and manager Azael Dominguez were ejected from the semifinal game against the U.S. Southeast because Alonso was using an illegal bat. The ejections came with a one game suspension meaning both would miss out on the championship game.
But the U.S. East was without their starting catcher as well. Earlier in the tournament, Eric Duerr was hurt on a play at the plate requiring him to be removed on a stretcher. Duerr was at the championship game but was wearing a neck brace as he cheered on his teammates.
So with each team minus their starting catcher, and one of their top bats, it would come down to a pitching duel and a miscue to decide the World Series champion.
Javier Garcia started and pitched brilliantly for Panama. All day he gave the East hitters fits with his curve ball. He pitched a complete game, gave up one unearned run, gave up just four hits, and struck out nine. Not only did he have the slow big breaking ball working, he was also bringing some heat. All day he was around the 87-88 mph range, but in the final inning sensing the championship he was touching 91.
Garcia’s counterpart on the mound for the East, Alex Pechin, pitched great as well. Pechin went the distance as well giving up two runs on seven hits. He did it more with location and movement than overpowering speed. But all afternoon he had Panama hitters off balance.
The East got the scoring started in the bottom of the fourth inning. After a one out double by Joseph Zirolli (1-for-3), the next hitter grounded into a fielder’s choice that had Zirolli dead to rights at third base. However, the Panama third baseman dropped the ball on the slide and the runners were safe at first and third.
After a walk loaded the bases, Eric Takoushian (2-for-3) grounded out to first base to drive in the first run of the game. Garcia would get out of the inning allowing only the one run.
Pechin held Panama scoreless until the top of the sixth inning. Abel Gallardo (2-for-3) singled to start the inning. The next hitter walked and a sacrifice bunt put runners at second and third with just one out. Edgardo Sandoval (2-for-3) then hit an infield single to tie the game at one.
Pechin then really buckled down. With two runners on and one out, Panama’s best hitter strolled to the plate in pitcher Garcia. He was coming off a 4-for-5 game in the semifinals and could have put Panama in front with a huge hit. However, Pechin was up to the task and got him to pop out to second base.
It looked like Pechin would pitch out of the inning. Then the miscue came that caused the East the ballgame. On a fastball a little high and outside, the East catcher allowed the ball bounce out of his glove. The ball bounced away just far enough to allow the runner from third to score the go ahead run.
Panama scored the tying and winning run in the semifinals on a wild pitch and a throwing error that came all on the same play. Now in the championship game they took advantage of a passed ball to score what became the winning run.
The East made it interesting in the bottom of the seventh putting the first two runners on and then sacrificing them over. But Garcia dug deep hitting 91 on the radar gun on his 91st pitch. He would end the threat and the game giving Panama its first title since 2000.
It was not the first time that this Panama team had sent players to the US for a Little League championship. A few years earlier seven of the players on the team competed in Williamsport in the 2010 Little League World Series. That team would finish 1-2 losing to the eventual champions Japan in pool play.