When it comes to youth sports, the Little League World Series serves as the absolute pinnacle of pre-teen accomplishment. It pulls in the best youth baseball all-star teams from across the world. It's televised on ESPN and, in general, it showcases that youngsters can do much of what their heroes do on a smaller scale, both in terms of their bodies and the fields on which they play.
Yet one team which will play in Williamsport, Penn. this week got there in the most controversial of circumstances, officially ending its opponents late upset bid by appealing to third base that a base runner had missed the bag. The referee concurred with the appeal and ended the game, and fans from Petaluma, Calif. rejoiced, leaving a squad from Hawaii with a despondent flight back to the Pacific Island.
The entire scene unfolded in the top of the sixth inning, with the Petaluma (Calif.) National Little League All-Stars clinging to a 7-6 lead against the Nanakuli (Hawaii) Little League All-Stars. There were two outs in the inning with a runner on second base, but before the next pitch was fired, the Petaluma manager walked out to the mound, in theory to discuss pitch selection and how to approach the next Hawaii batter.
Instead, the manager was told by his third baseman, Porter Slate, that the previous runner had missed third base while rounding the bags. The manager told his pitcher to fire the ball to third base, with the assumption that Braedyn Chong, the final scoring Hawaii runner had indeed missed the bag.
The call from the side officially ended the contest, sending the Petaluma players into a glove-throwing celebration and trip back home to pack for a trip to Pennsylvania less than 24 hours later.
"I saw him not touch the base," Slate told the San Bernadino Sun. "I was disappointed they scored, but then I remembered he didn't touch the base."
Meanwhile, the Hawaiian players were left scratching their heads, with their manager less than convinced that any of his charges had done anything wrong, as he was quick to tell the San Bernadino Sun following the loss.
"I'd really like to see a replay on that," Nanakuli manager Danny Stephens told the paper. "But there are a lot of replays in the tournament I'd like to see."
The replays didn't make matters much more clear. If Chong missed the bag, he missed it by the width of a pin. If he hit it, he probably only struck the base with his heel. Either way, it brought the biggest game of the year for either team to a head in the most controversial of ways. It may also have ended the Hawaii squad's stay on one of the biggest stages of their young athletes' lives, of no fault of their own.