Celebrated by the tiny island of Cura√ßao (pop. 192,000), the first Little League World Series title by a team from the Caribbean. Cura√ßao cruised to a 5-2 win over U.S. champ Thousand Oaks, Calif., in South Williamsport, Pa., on Sunday behind an 11-strikeout performance by Carlos (Big Papi) Pineda and a two-run homer by Jurickson Profar. The victory sparked fireworks and a celebration in the capital city of Willemstad, where fans watched on outdoor big-screen televisions. Said coach Luis Provacia, "Winning the series will be like celebrating the Fourth of July in America." The excitement spread to the Atlanta Braves' clubhouse, where outfielder and Cura√ßao native Andruw Jones intently followed the kids on TV.
Occupying just 182 square miles off the coast of Venezuela, Cura√ßao has sent a team to Williamsport each of the last four years. The previous three squads lost to Japan in the international final, but this year's team proved to be a self-assured and resilient bunch. (On the eve of the final a Williamsport newspaper asked five members to name the tournament's best player. Four nominated themselves.) Cura√ßao trailed Taiwan by four runs with four outs to go in its international semifinal before rallying for a 9--8 win, then breezed to a 4-0 win over Mexico to reach the final.
The 13-year-old Pineda, the largest player in the tournament at 5'11" and 169 pounds, didn't allow a run to Thousand Oaks until the final inning, when he surrendered a two-run homer. Jonathan Schoop, who had the game-winning hit against Taiwan, came on to get the final out with two runners on, then was mobbed by his teammates. Said a beaming Andruw Jones, who happily collected on a bet with teammate and California native Robert Fick, "It means a lot for a little island."
THREE COLOR PHOTOS
DAVID BERGMAN(LITTLE LEAGUE, 3)
¬† Pineda's arm and Profar's homer (bottom) had the U.S. climbing the walls.