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With Walk-Off Win, All-Stars are Bound for Bangor

Ian McLoughlin delivers the big hit in the bottom of the seventh inning to push Manhattan Beach past Hilo, Hawaii, 5-4, and into the Senior League World Series. But getting to that point was anything but ordinary for the Mustangs.

They were walk-off winners when Bret Collins singled, Anthony Lombardo walked, and pinch-runner Braden Casady floated across home plate with the winning run after Ian McLoughlin absolutely crushed a ball deep into the gap in right center field.

But that was only the end of it.

The Manhattan Beach All-Stars had beaten Hilo, Hawaii, 5-4 with a run in the bottom of the seventh inning on Tuesday in the championship game of the West Regional and now are headed to the Senior League World Series in Bangor, Maine.

In tow is a win in which exhilarating vied with improbable for adjective of the day, the elements to the Mustangs' victory quite often leading only to defeat.

''Craziest game I've ever had in my life,'' Collins said.

Starting pitcher Turner Conrad went to the mound and found he had no command of his curveball or his changeup. He was left with one pitch, a fastball, to use against a Hawaii team that had crushed fastballs for a week and was averaging 13.5 runs per game in this tournament.

But he made it work for 5 2/3 wrenching innings and how that happened, well …

''I don't know,'' Conrad said. ''I was trying to focus on putting that fastball on the outside corner and on their big guys, get it in, because they were all trying to extend, and when I got it in they all got jammed and rolled it over to third base.''

The Mustangs also had only one hit through the first six innings – and that hit, a single by Collins with runners at first and second, didn't even produce a run.

But working counts and drawing walks, they were able to manufacture two runs in the first inning and two runs in the third inning, which was enough until Hilo tied the score at 4 in the top of the seventh.

''I told the kids I might need to go and play the lottery tonight,'' Manager Carlos Rojas said. ''I don't know the last regional champion to win the championship with one hit [in six innings]. I kept looking at the scoreboard and thinking, 'Is that a misprint?' I kept looking at my score sheet and thinking, 'Are you kidding me, we only have one hit?' ''

The Mustangs were able to add to their collection of championship banners because Conrad gutted his way through a tough Hilo lineup three times with only one pitch working.

Collins, Lombardo and McLoughlin, all left-handed hitters, were able to take quality at-bats against a tough left-handed pitcher in a pressure-packed seventh inning. But that is only part of it.

The Mustangs won because they did a great job working counts against Hilo starter Quintin Torres-Costa, who lasted only three innings before nearing his 95-pitch limit. Right fielder Jackson Lipps played a huge role in that, seeing 10 pitches in his first plate appearance against the left-hander and another 11 pitches in his second.

Morgan Ascher came out of the bullpen with two outs in the sixth and after plunking the first batter that he faced to load the bases, he battled back to strike out cleanup hitter Ekolu Martins on a 3-2 pitch.

Lombardo made a fantastic scoop of a low throw to complete an inning-ending double play. Sam O'Melia put down a perfect squeeze bunt to drive in a run in the bottom of the third inning.

Ryan Erickson and Austin Henning, at the top of the Mustangs' lineup, drew four of the 10 walks issued by Hilo pitchers. First baseman Ryan Franklin had the presence to go after and get a force at second base and keep a runner out of scoring position in the pivotal seventh inning.

Along with the game-winning hit, McLoughlin had a fantastic game behind the plate, blocking pitches in the dirt and preventing Hilo base runners from advancing.

''I'm so proud of every single one of these guys,'' Rojas said. ''They did a phenomenal job. I just sit back and enjoy it. That's the truth. They deserve all the credit in the world.''

They will soak all that in for a day or two before packing for Bangor and the World Series, which runs Aug. 15-21, while still trying to explain exactly how it happened. Collins gave it a shot.

''We're so close together. We have so much confidence in everyone on the team,'' he said. ''We're all from the same high school and we've all played together since we were real small. We all have confidence and if someone is struggling, we always back them up.''

So did Lipps. ''I guess we're just working with what we've got,'' he said. ''We're just playing the game. There's not much to it. We're just trying to do what we can.''

But they can all agree on one thing with Braden Casady, who got to cross home plate.

''It just felt awesome,'' he said.

 

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