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California wins Little League World Series 6-5 over Curacao on walk-off homer

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — Little Leaguers everywhere dream of a moment like this.

Louis Lappe hit a walk-off homer and California beat Curacao 6-5 in the Little League World Series championship on Sunday, despite giving up a four-run lead.

Louis flipped his bat and threw his arms in the air as he trotted around the bases, leaping onto home plate as he was greeted by his teammates surrounding the batter’s box. The leadoff hitter in the bottom of the sixth inning, Louis lofted the second pitch he saw just beyond the left field fence.

“This is a unique feeling that maybe only five or less people experience in their lifetime,” said Louis, who finished the tournament with five homers, the most of any player. “I feel great. It’s hard to beat this feeling. I don’t know what would make me feel happier.”

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Curacao tied the game in the fifth on Nasir El-Ossais’s grand slam to center, setting off a frenzied celebration by the players, coaches and Curacao fans down the third-base side of Lamade Stadium. Nasir also drove in a run in the third.

Jaxon Kalish and Lucas Keldorf drove in two runs each for California.

“The five guys that I have in the top of the lineup, they’re as good as anyone in this tournament,” El Segundo manager Danny Boehle said. “I stand by that full heartedly.”

It was the first trip to the final for the team from El Segundo, a community in the Los Angeles area. California’s eight titles are the most by any U.S. state.

Curacao, a small island off the coast of Venezuela that is home to just 150,000 residents, has represented the international side of the bracket in the championship the last three times non-U.S. teams have competed — in 2019, 2022 and this year — but has lost each time.

There was no tournament in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2021 tournament was limited to American teams because of travel restrictions.

Curacao returned five players and its coaching staff from the team that lost 13-3 to Hawaii in the 2022 final.

“I ate the cake already last year. I ate the cake this year, too, but I ain’t take the cherry home,” Curacao manager Zaino Everett said after the game with tears in his eyes.

Both California and Curacao took a loss during the tournament and had to work their way through the elimination bracket to the final. With pitch counts mounting across the rosters, each turned to less experienced LLWS starters.

Crew O’Connor drove in a run for El Segundo in the fourth with a single to left field that followed Max Baker’s triple, giving California a 5-1 advantage. It got bumpy from there, but California came out on top.

“What we did may never happen again in the history of El Segundo,” Boehle said.

HELLO, GOVERNOR

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro was on hand for the game, joined by 2014 LLWS pitching sensation Mo’ne Davis. Next August will mark 10 years since Davis became the first female pitcher to win a tournament game, helping Philadelphia’s Taney Little League to make it to the U.S. semifinal.

“We’re really proud of her in Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said.

STUART SCOTT HONORED

The late Stuart Scott was the 62nd person to be enshrined in the Little League’s Hall of Excellence before Sunday’s tournament final. Scott was recognized for his support of the Little League World Series while he was at ESPN.

ESPN is the broadcast partner for Little League and carried 337 games across all divisions of play this season.

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Spencer Ripchik contributed to this report. He and Seth Engle are students in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State.

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AP sports: https://apnews.com/sports