The teams from Japan and California remained locked in a 1-1 tie heading into the bottom of the sixth inning of the Little League World Series Championship. The stage was set for an epic win in walk-off fashion for the Little Leaguers from Huntington Beach.
The sun emerged from behind the veil of clouds known as Irene; enthusiastic cheers echoed around the stadium from the crowd of over 9,000 supportive fans; California's best hitters were due up.
Several minutes later, the game was over, and there was a victor. However, after just a brief celebration by the winning team, congratulations were shared between teams, and they enjoyed the moment together.
Sportsmanship shone through, like the sun through the clouds, as we so often see in the Little League World Series. But along with that, there were some pretty sweet plays made by these future major leaguers. Here are the top 10 plays and moments from 2011.
I was unable to find suitable video footage of Sotaro's catch, but it was a sight to behold. In a pool play match against Saudi Arabia, a deep fly ball was hit to left center. Sotaro swerved backward and sprinted toward it. He was able to extend his glove just far enough and make the out in stride.
Sotaro also hit a solo shot in that game, during a series that was scarce in long balls. There were about half as many home runs in the 2011 series as there have been in series past.
What made both these plays great is the joy they brought to Sotaro and his teammates. In such an emotional tournament, it's energizing to see the players having such a good time doing what they love.
In the International semi-final, Omar Conoropo Jr. wowed us all with his laser throw to the plate from right field. The athletic tag at the plate completed the out for Venezuela, and scouts everywhere wrote this kid's name down.
Conoropo Jr's throw was good for No. 1 on SportsCenter's Top Ten Plays, LLWS Edition. Mexico would go on to win the game, but Conoropo Jr. will go back to Venezuela an accomplished outfielder.
Dugout, the LLWS mascot, a bear, can frequently be seen mixing it up with players from both teams before and after games.
He's part of the relaxed, fun atmosphere that's enjoyed during every LLWS. It's always fun to see players from different states and countries have a good time together and forget about the competition.
We'll see one of his protégés later...
In the team from Billings, Mont.'s last game of the pool rounds of the LLWS, Ben Askelson came through with a homer in the bottom of the seventh.
The home run pushed the Northwest representatives past the Huntington Beach team, who had already qualified for the bracket finals. It was good to see an underdog team from rural America advance.
The two teams would meet again in the national final, but California would come out on top in that contest.
The team from Uganda won the Middle-East-Africa region, but a problem with visas prevented them from playing in the LLWS. A team from Saudi Arabia took their place as representative of the MEA region.
The Ugandan team showed their support for the Saudi Arabians by watching and cheering for them from home.
The Ugandan team members were disappointed that they couldn't represent their country, but they were happy that the Saudi Arabians could replace them. One of the players, Felix Barugahare, remarked: “I want the Saudi Arabia team to win. They are in our league, and they represent us.”
The fact that the sportsmanship and camaraderie involved in the LLWS stretch all around the world is what makes it worth watching.
Hagen Danner, the top hitter in this year's LLWS, pitched phenomenally and hit a home run en route a win that guaranteed the team from Huntington Beach, Calif., a spot in the National Championship.
He fanned 12, holding the team from Keystone, Pa. scoreless. His fastest fastball was clocked at 77 mph (that's faster than Tim Wakefield's).
Danner would go on to make a major impact in the final against Japan.
Mexico went into the International semi-final the underdogs against Venezuela. However, any odds were quickly tossed aside as a fantastic pitching duel played out. Both teams played great defense through nine intense innings.
Mexico's starter Carlos Arellano pitched 7 1/3 innings, striking out 11, in a major league-esque start.
Finally, in the ninth inning, Bruno Ruiz launched one over the left field fence for the game-winning run.
It was great to see the team from Billings, Montana progress so far in this year's Series. It gets old seeing the Hawaiian and Californian teams winning everything.
Although the Northwesterners didn't win, they went home with an unforgettable experience and a great deal of pride for their hometown.
Ninety percent of the LLWS is the baseball, but the other half is the dancing, baseball great Yogi Berra once said.
Down 20-0 to Chinese Taipei, Aruba's team was seemingly down and out. Left fielder Vaughn Bergen sought to change that with his assortment of dance moves. He succeeded in lightening the moods of his teammates, who went on to score three runs in the next inning.
Vaughn's father, Luigi, reported that "The dancing thing got everyone smiling, and they started hitting the ball in that last inning."
It's good to see everyone had fun.
It was California that emerged victorious in the championship. After several base hits and an error, Nick Pratto, son of coach Jeff Pratto, came to the plate with two outs. That's a lot of pressure for a 12-year old, but Nick came through with a bloop single over the second baseman's head.
After the winning run crossed the plate, the Californian team dogpiled in shallow right field, celebrating their victory.
After an emotional couple of weeks, the tournament came to a close in a spectacular finale that showcased the young talent of kids from both sides of the world.
That's what the Little League World Series is all about.