Torrance, California is halfway to Little League World Series final

Torrance California is halfway to Little League World Series final
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Grant Hays flexed his right bicep after his first home run Sunday morning. His second required no celebration.

With a three-run blast in the third inning and monstrous two-run shot in the sixth that he described as the longest of his young career, Hays led Torrance Little League to a 9-0 thumping of Hamilton, Ohio, at the Little League Baseball World Series. The victory moved the California team within two wins of the tournament final.

“It’s starting to all come together,” Torrance coach Javier Chavez said. “We’re realizing exactly what’s ahead of us.”

Much like its opener on Thursday, an 11-1 defeat of New Hampshire, Torrance rolled to another lopsided victory behind a well-rounded formula.

There was dominant pitching in a combined one-hitter, headlined by starter Xavier Navarro, who threw 4 ⅔ scoreless innings.

There was clutch defense, including a key first-inning double-play to nullify Ohio’s biggest threat of the day.

And there was explosive offense, with Hays providing the two biggest jolts to key four-run frames in the third and sixth innings.

After Torrance opened the scoring in the second on Skylar Vinson’s RBI single, Gibson Turner drove in another run in the third before Hays entered the game as a pinch-hitter.

After working a 3-1 count, Hays jumped on a high inside fastball, stinging a line drive over the wall in left to make it 5-0.

“I think it went all the way out to the cars,” said Chavez. “I’ve never seen that before, but I did know he could do that. He’s a big kid, and he’s got a big heart. He does it for the team.”

Torrance’s next game in the modified double-elimination event will be on Wednesday against either Oregon or South Dakota. With a win there, they would advance to the tournament semifinal. After dominating again on Sunday, a potential path to the championship game is becoming a little clearer.

“With everything going on here lately, being able to actually come out and perform this way is a testament to the kids,” Chavez said. “They like to win. They’re good at doing it. And more importantly, they like playing together.”

There were plenty of other highlights for Torrance from there.

Turner drove in three runs with a couple of doubles. Elias Emerson made a diving catch in right field in the fourth inning. Navarro, in addition to shutting down Ohio’s offense, flashed the leather, combining with Turner on the first-inning double play before snaring a comebacker in the third that was headed toward his face.

Torrance shortstop Gibson Turner forces Hamilton, Ohio’s JJ Vogel at second base during the first inning of the Little League World Series on Sunday.

(Tom E. Puskar / Associated Press)

“I was a little worried when he was on his back right there,” Chavez said. “But then I saw that big smile on his face. That’s just Xavier right there.”

Hays then capped off the day in the sixth, clobbering a two-run homer that sailed over the lawn beyond left field. With a slow walk up the first-base line, he gazed at the ball — which he said was probably the longest he’s ever hit in a game — before coolly flipping his bat and rounding the bases.

“I was in shock I hit it that far, to be honest,” Hays said.

Torrance's Grant Hays flexes as rounds the bases on his three-run home run.

Torrance’s Grant Hays flexes as rounds the bases on his three-run home run during the third inning at the Little League World Series on Sunday.

(Tom E. Puskar / Associated Press)

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