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Petaluma American Elevens stop Nationals for title

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The destiny-tapped Petaluma Americans held off the never-say-die Petaluma Nationals, 6-5, to win the District 35 Little League Tournament for 9-11-year-olds on Ukiah Youth Baseball’s sun-drenched diamond Saturday morning.

The win completed a perfect 5-0 run to the district championship for the hard-hitting Americans. The loss finally eliminated the gutsy Nationals, who battled their way to four wins in as many days after losing their first game to the Americans, 12-2, exactly a week before their season ended.

Even trailing by four runs going into what would be their final at bats of the All-Star season, the Nationals refused to surrender, scoring three runs and putting the potential tying run at third base before the Americans could escape with the triumph and the title.

The District 35 champion moves on to the Section 1 Tournament hosted by the American Canyon Little League. The Americans play their first game at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Little League’s rigid pitch-count rule played a part in Saturday’s district thriller between the two Petaluma teams. Both starting pitchers, Ryan Rice for the Americans and Jack Pezzolo for the Nationals, pitched well, with Rice benefiting from staunch defensive support and Pezzolo overcoming spurts of wildness that eventually drove him from the mound when he reached the 85-pitch count maximum in the fourth inning.

Rice lasted longer, working a strikeout and a single into the sixth inning.

By then, the Americans had a 6-2 lead and seemed to have things well in hand, but things can be deceiving.

They were certainly deceiving early on when it looked like it would be the Nationals who would take charge.

Pezzolo started the game for the Nationals by hustling out a triple. Three singles, wrapped around a strikeout, produced two runs and two runners on base, when American center fielder Jasper Ferrar changed the complexion of the game, racing into right center field to snare a smash off the bat of Avery Goodrich and turning the catch into an inning-ending and rally-killing double play at first base.

The Americans didn’t get a hit off the hard-throwing Pezzolo until Luke Bell singled sharply up the middle in the third inning. That didn’t stop them from scoring a run as the National pitcher walked three and gave up a run on a wild pitch while striking out the side in the first inning.

Bell’s single followed a walk to Brady Laubscher, and was the only legitimate hit in a two-run rally that included two walks and a pair of costly National fielding gaffes.

One out into the fourth inning, with his side leading, 3-2, Laubscher drove a single to center field. It was part of a big day for the Americans’ leadoff hitter that included two walks, two hits and three runs scored. Bell followed with his second hit in as many innings, a single to right.

Although they would get only one more hit in the inning, an infield single by the always hustling Louiegino Rico, the Americans sent nine batters to the plate and scored three runs, enough for a seemingly solid 6-2 lead.

The Americans’ comfort zone was quickly violated by the still-determined Nationals. Rice’s final pitch of the game was hit into left field for a solid single by Arlo Pendleton. Fire-throwing Brady Ruoff came on to get a fly out to right field but then ran into control problems. A walk and a force out followed. With two out, Austin Nickel, in his only at bat of the game, rolled a single inside first base to keep the National dreams flickering.

A pair of wild pitches allowed two runs to score, and suddenly it was a 6-5 game with the potential tying run creeping off third base.

Ruoff met the challenge head on, ending the game with a swinging strikeout.

The Americans earned their spot in the championship game by slugging Mark West, 13-3, in a winners’ bracket semifinal game.

Rouff led the way in that game with two shots off the fence 225 feet from home plate for triples.

Hunter Koloskey used just 34 pitches to get through three pitching innings of the five-frame game, striking out six and allowing only three hits.