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SI FOR KIDS
Alabama topples defending champs to reach LLWS finals
Posted: Tuesday September 14, 1999 11:56 PM
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (CNN/SI) -- Toms River came into this year's Little League World Series with the nickname "The Beast of the East." Well, the animal is dead.
One day after rain delayed the game overnight, Phenix City, Ala., rode Bryan Woodall's hard-biting curveball to a 3-2 comeback win over the defending champion on Friday in the U.S. championship game.
Amazingly, Phenix City's win came five days after Toms River demolished the newcomers from Alabama 6-0 in the opening game of the tournament for both teams.
Phenix City will play Osaka, Japan, on Saturday in the title game.
Toms River was leading 2-0 in the second inning Thursday night when rain forced suspension of play until Friday. Manager Mike Gaynor said the overnight delay robbed his team of momentum.
Even though Woodall knew he would be facing the formidable "Beast of the East," which was batting a collective .327, he said he slept soundly.
"The coaches call him the Iceman. He's one of the most even-keeled people you will ever meet. He's absolutely non-kidlike -- no nerves at all. Weird," Phenix City manager Tony Rasmus said.
When play resumed, William Gaston III homered during Phenix City's three-run second inning. It was Gaston's second homer of the series and his second ever, coming two days after his 13th birthday.
Woodall, meanwhile, struck out eight in five innings of relief.
Toms River failed to become only the third team ever to win back-to-back titles. Long Beach, Calif., and Monterrey, Mexico, are the others.
Some Toms River players wept at the last out.
"I thought we played an OK game, but they just started hitting and hitting and the hits kept coming," Toms River shortstop Chris Fontenelli said.
Gaston homered on a fastball by Casey Gaynor, the son of the manager, and Phenix City followed with four consecutive singles for a 3-2 lead.
"When he got that home run, we all got up and around in the dugout. We had been up anyway, but we said, 'He got it off Casey,' and we knew we could get hits too," said Woodall, 12.
Woodall, who also plays third base, said he stuck with an overhand curveball that is his best pitch.
"He had good control, he was keeping the ball down and our kids were swinging over top of it," Mike Gaynor said.
Gaynor had to pull his son, whose arm was sore after pitching an inning Thursday.
"We knew after the home run that he wasn't invincible. To be honest, I thought he was invincible on Thursday night," Tony Rasmus said about the younger Gaynor.
Phenix City players were spooked by the large Toms River crowd in a 6-0 loss in Sunday's preliminary game but were able to ignore them and their gorilla mascot in the U.S. championship.
The rain, however, took the predominantly pro-Toms River crowd out of play. About 11,000 fans watched Friday morning, compared with 27,500 before Thursday night's rain delay.
"I have to tell you, it will be good to be playing when there aren't 500,000 fans or whatever rooting against us on Saturday," Tony Rasmus said.
"And the guy in the gorilla suit will be gone," Rasmus said. "He has been our Achilles' heel. Maybe we can get him to root for us."
Gaynor will resign as manager after becoming the only person ever to take three teams to a series -- in 1995, 1998 and this year. Toms River beat Kashima, Japan 12-9 last year.
"I'm going to miss it. I've managed probably 80 all-star games with 12-year-olds in the last few years, and it's time to step down. I'm worn out," said Gaynor, a shoe-store manager.
Players from both Phenix City and Osaka have become fast friends, teaching each other some phrases and trading pins and competing at video games.
Osaka beat Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, 12-2 on Thursday. Starter Kazuki Sumiyama said he hasn't even thrown his best pitches yet -- one called a "thunderball" and one that his teammates named after him, the "Kazuball." He wouldn't reveal what they do, but his manager, former Hanshin Tigers player Tsutomu Kameyama, said Phenix City may see both.
"My concern now is not so much with what the players will do on the field," Kameyama said through an interpreter. "I want them to be mentally ready."
Phenix City No. 3 starter Zach Martin, who allowed just three hits in a win over Boise, Idaho, on Tuesday, will pitch. Both Colby Rasmus and Woodall are ineligible because they pitched an inning or more the previous game.
Phenix City also rallied from 5-1 to beat Brownsburg, Ind., on Monday and from 5-0 to beat Tennessee in the southern playoffs.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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