SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - Scott Bandura sprinted from first to third base and Taney manager Alex Rice sent him home. The speedy catcher from Mount Airy slid safely across the plate with two outs in the sixth inning Sunday night.
Philadelphia's Taney Dragons had clawed back from three runs down to tie their Little League World Series game with Pearland, Texas, at Lamade Stadium. And they were not finished.
West Philly's Tai Shanahan, the next batter, smacked a deep grounder to the shortstop. The fielder forced his throw and sailed it over first base. Zion Spearman, whose triple had driven home Bandura, scored and Taney stunned Pearland, 7-6, to advance to the U.S. semifinal Wednesday against Mountain Ridge Little League of Las Vegas.
"I thought I was going to get to third at the most," Bandura said. "When I saw Alex waving me home, I started running faster than I probably ever have. I was looking at the catcher and he was just kind of watching, so I knew the game was tied."
The next game for Philadelphia's first team at the Little League World Series will be Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Mo'ne Davis will return to the mound for the first time since Friday, when she became the first girl to throw a shutout in tournament history.
The Dragons were asked afterward by a television reporter if they felt like a team of destiny.
"I was reading something that said 'luck is a combination of opportunity meeting preparation,' " outfielder Kai Cummings said. "So I think we prepared hard enough and we had the opportunity to get where we are."
The Dragons entered the final inning trailing, 6-5. Bandura led off with a bunt, but his attempt rolled foul. Undeterred, he tried again. He sprinted down the first-base line and beat out a soft toss to first by the Pearland pitcher.
"It's my job as the leadoff hitter to get on base, and until they show they can throw me out I'm going to keep doing it," Bandura said.
Taney quickly made two outs, bringing up the slugging Spearman with no room for error. The team from Texas opted against walking Spearman, believing it could catch him off guard with Landon Donley's looping curveball.
Spearman cracked a zooming grounder through the infield and into the gap in left-center field for a triple, scoring Bandura.
"I was nervous, but at the same time I had to focus," Spearman said. "My teammates were saying he was throwing the curveball a lot. So I just waited on it and I drove it."
Two pitches later, Shanahan delivered his game-winning grounder. His teammates mobbed him near first base, but the celebration was short-lived. The Dragons had to shake hands with the team from Texas. After the greeting, Shanahan was grabbed by Eli Simon. The neighborhood friends from West Philly enjoyed the win together.
"It's probably one of the best things," Shanahan said. "Walk-off in the Little League World Series. It doesn't get much better."
Shortstop Jack Rice, the manager's son, was removed from the game in the first inning after he was tagged hard in the head by Pearland's pitcher on a rundown play. Alex Rice said his son had a cut in his mouth and felt lightheaded. He said he expected the shortstop to return to practice Monday.
"It was a good shot," the elder Rice said. "Of course I don't like to see it. But it's baseball, I guess."
Starting pitcher Jared Sprague-Lott lasted 42/3 innings, allowing five runs and striking out eight. He cruised through the first two innings with good command of his curveball as Taney took a 2-0 lead. He allowed his first run in the third but stranded two baserunners. In the fifth, Sprague-Lott yielded a three-run homer to Cole Smajstrla.
Taney, which had led since the first inning, suddenly trailed, 6-3. As Smajstrla cruised around the bases, the Taney infielders converged at the mound. Davis raised her glove toward Sprague-Lott and tapped him. Jahli Hendricks shook the pitcher's hand.
Smajstrla's teammates had emptied their dugout and huddled at home plate to celebrate. The Taney players told Sprague-Lott it was OK. And everything proved to be just fine.