SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. &
John Cornett hit the ball so high and hard that center fielder Michael Rando thought briefly it was a sure home run.
But Rando turned and gave chase, allowing himself enough time to settle in front of the padded green fence. He jumped, raised his glove and came down with the ball with two outs in the bottom of the sixth and a runner on third base, preserving a 3-2 win Friday for Walpole, Mass., over Hamilton, Ohio.
A new Little League World Series hero was born.
"I don't think I'll ever let go of this ball," Rando said, gripping it with his right hand following Walpole's dramatic win in the opening game of the tournament.
"To kick it off like this is something special," manager Brian Oberacker said.
Also Friday, Tokyo rallied from a 3-0 first-inning deficit to beat Willemstad, Curacao, 10-3; Maricaibo, Venezuela, edged Taichung, Taiwan, 2-1; and Warner Robins, Ga., routed Lake Oswego, Ore., 9-4.
Hamilton could just as easily have been celebrating victory. Even Walpole (1-0) winning pitcher Samuel Falkson said he thought Cornett's shot was a "no-doubter."
Rando had other plans.
"I thought I had a chance to rob it," he said. "I knew it was gone, but I thought I had a chance to rob it."
After the game, Rando let go of the baseball just long enough to sign a few autographs for his new fan club.
Hamilton (0-1), which was 14-0 entering the tournament, led 1-0 until the top of the sixth, when Walpole scored three runs.
Hamilton then made it 3-2 after Anthony Cline scored on wild pitch. A runner advanced to third with two outs before Rando made his highlight-reel grab.
"We're living in a surreal world right now. What do you do?" Hamilton manager Tom Nichting said.
He planned to rally his devastated team for its next game, Saturday night against Warner Robins.
"If that's the worst thing that can happen in life, you'll be all right," Nichting said.
Later Friday, Kanta Hiraide hit a liner to the left-field wall with the bases loaded to cap a six-run third inning for the Tokyo Kitasuna squad from Japan.
This is the first year that Japan's national Little League tournament winner automatically qualified for South Williamsport. Japan (1-0) hadn't played a game since July 21 and looked a little rusty before the offense kicked in.
The Pabao Little League team from Curacao (0-1) isn't a slouch either. A team from that league has qualified for the series seven straight years, winning a title in 2004.
A team from Maricaibo, Venezuela is playing in the series after a seven-year absence. That last squad in 2000 won the title.
This year's team is off to a good start after Miguel Romero doubled home Alberti Chavez with two outs in the bottom of the sixth for Venezuela (1-0).
Venezuela starter Ronny Mejias stuck out nine and allowed a hit but was forced to leave in the bottom of the fifth after throwing his 86th pitch due to a new pitch count rule.
Mejias struck out his last batter, but reliever Bryan Charry allowed an RBI single later that inning to Kai-Ying Chen to tie the game 1-1 for Taiwan (0-1).
"Mejias definitely have continued to pitch if it wasn't for the pitch count," Venezuela manager Jesus Paez said through interpreter Luis Sanchez.
No such controversy in the nightcap, when Warner Robins' bats supported an effective outing from Clint Wynn in the victory over Lake Oswego (0-1).
Warner Robins (1-0) was aggressive on the basepaths, taking advantage of passed balls, throwing errors and a couple other miscues from Oregon to get an 8-0 lead by the third inning.
Zane Conlon had two RBI doubles, but misplayed a grounder at shortstop in the sixth that allowed a run to score and extend a late rally as Oregon pulled to within 9-4.
But Hunt Smith snared a bouncer down the first-base line to start a game-ending double play.
Outfielder saves game with leaping catch in LLWS
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. &