Home runs extend Citrus Park's season

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Citrus Park had already decided to stay through the Little League World Series, win or lose.

The team is quick to say it's more fun when it wins.

Even more after three home runs sparked a six-run rally in the top of the seventh for an extra-inning 8-2 win Monday over Shelton, Conn., putting Citrus Park into Thursday's U.S. semifinals as the Pool B runnerup.

"Those guys knew that was it, their last game together," said manager Joe McGuire, whose team would have been eliminated with a loss. "That's the way this team is. When one guy does it, they all do, but sometimes it's a problem getting started."

Citrus Park, from northwest Hillsborough County, trailed 2-1 after five but tied it with the first of two Kevin Merrell home runs in the top of the sixth. His second homer made it 8-2.

Daniel Lastra's homer leading off the seventh put Citrus Park up 3-2, then came Michael McGuire's single and run-scoring doubles by Ryan McCullers and Austin McCullers. Brett Wilkosz's two-run homer down the rightfield line made it 7-2.

McGuire, thinking Shelton starter Tyler Tice would tire, sensed a rally was coming when Wilkosz hit a hard lineout to short in the third. But Tice gave himself a 2-1 lead when he singled home Matt Stoll in the fifth. Tice also singled and scored on a fourth-inning bases-loaded groundout after Citrus Park starter Wyatt Reid struck out two straight.

Shelton manager Ed Szymanski declined comment. McGuire kept his players out of the interview room, saying they should celebrate instead.

McGuire planned to pitch his son, Michael, but changed his mind after seeing him warm up and picked Reid. Levi Gilcrease earned the win in relief, retiring the last two hitters in the fifth before a 1-2-3 sixth. Merrell ended that inning by snagging a hard liner at short from Jason Hafele.

After Merrell tied it in the sixth, Gilcrease was thrown out at second trying to stretch a single.

"He has fight like his dad. He's a big-time pingpong player, and he wanted to (pitch) today," said McGuire, who said Gilcrease failing to advance a runner on a second-inning bunt was his only mistake.

Citrus Park's next foe, the Pool A champion, will be determined today. Unbeaten Lake Charles, La., can win it by beating Hagerstown, Md.

"Louisiana's a good ball club. Advantage to them," McGuire said. "Even if we play well, I don't know if we can beat them.

"But to be one of the top four teams in the U.S., I'll take it," he said.

>>FAST FACTS

Thursday's game

Citrus Park vs. U.S. Pool A champion (to be determined), 8 p.m., Williamsport, Pa., ESPN. Bay News 9 On Demand (Ch. 342 on Bright House Networks) will replay Citrus Park's games.

On the Web

See community.tampabay.com for more on Citrus Park.

Citrus Park 8

Connecticut 2

7 innings

Home runs extend Citrus Park's season 08/18/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 19, 2008 1:36pm]

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