Uganda wins hearts, but not its opener

Nuevo Laredo players celebrate after a home run as Vancouver catcher Ataru Yamaguchi looks away.
Nuevo Laredo players celebrate after a home run as Vancouver catcher Ataru Yamaguchi looks away. (MATT SLOCUM / Associated Press)
Posted: August 19, 2012

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - Win or lose, the Little League World Series team from Uganda has become a hometown favorite.

The first team from Africa to advance to South Williamsport in the 66-year history of the tourney did fall in its debut Friday.

Panama defeated the boys from Lugazi, 9-3.

Uganda's coaches said they didn't expect any parents of the players to make the expensive transatlantic trip to Pennsylvania. But Uganda has still drawn vocal fans who cheered wildly, especially after Daniel Alio's towering home run to center in the sixth. He showed off a homer trot that would have made David Ortiz proud.

It's been a special month already for Uganda sports after Stephen Kiprotich won gold in the men's marathon race at the London Olympics.

San Antonio (Texas) 5, Parsippany (N.J.) 2 - Jordan Cardenas homered and pitched 2 1/3 innings of hitless relief, and San Antonio took advantage of defensive miscues to beat Parsippany.

Cardenas gave Texas an early lead with his solo shot to right in the bottom of the first. The Southwest champion added three more runs in the second thanks to two outfield errors. Starting pitcher Tyler Vitt had singled to center in the inning and came around to score on a three-base error.

New Castle (Ind.) 4, Greshem (Ore.) 0 - Mason Gillis drove in two runs with a check-swing double in a four-run fifth for the Great Lakes champion to break open a pitcher's duel in a victory over the Northwest champion.

Cory Murphy started the scoring spree with a single, moved to second on a sacrifice and scored on two wild pitches. Gillis followed four batters later with the halfhearted swing that turned into a hit down the right-field line.

Until then, the last two teams to open play in the series played a tense game dominated from the mound.

Vancouver (British Columbia) 13, Nuevo Laredo (Mexico) 9 - Outfielder Thomas Neal's lunging catch saved an extra-base hit and helped the Canada champion beat the Mexico champion in a slugfest.

The teams combined for 27 hits, but several defensive gems by Canada had fans buzzing. Neal's catch was the most impressive after Mexico's Eduardo Abrego smacked a sinking liner to left-center with two outs in the third and a runner on first. Neal dashed to his right before diving for the catch with an outstretched glove just before the ball hit the turf.

Mexico manager Fernando Rios kept the message simple in encouraging his players after they fell behind.

"Basically our work is to cheer them up and to tell them not to give up," he said through interpreter Sergio Guzman. "And not to be impatient at the plate. Just hit some good baseballs."

Canada escaped another jam in the sixth to hold on. Neal caught a hard liner to center and nearly threw the ball into the infield expecting runners to tag before realizing it was the last out of the game.

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