MONTERREY, Mexico -- San Nicolas withstood a late rally from Norte Hermosillo to win Mexico's Little League regional championship on Friday night, and will make its first trip to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, next month for the Little League World Series.
San Nicolas, which hails from a suburb of Monterrey,rode clutch performances and home-field advantage into the championship game against a team it had lost to in the group stage just a few days prior.
Fourteen teams took part in the seven-day tournament. San Nicolas (7-1) won its first five games before dropping the first-place game in the Group A finale to Norte Hermosillo (7-1), which prevailed 8-6 despite being down to its last strike.
Laboring through sweltering heat that lingered into the game's late-evening start, both San Nicolas and Norte Hermosillo displayed ample hustle in their pursuit for the Mexican regional crown, culminating a weeklong tournament in one of the country's most avid pockets of baseball fandom.
It was the second consecutive year that a team from the northwestern Mexican state of Sonora was denied in the final qualifying game.Sonora has produced major leaguers past and present such as Fernando Valenzuela, Jorge De La Rosa, Marco Estrada and Erubiel Durazo.Despite its big league pedigree, however, Sonora has never produced a Mexican Little League region champion.
Norte Hermosillo had allowed just 14 runs in its first seven games, but an early outburst by San Nicolas put the home team ahead 4-0 after two innings. It would never relinquish that lead, despite a late rally during which Norte Hermosillo scored five runs in the last four innings.
Eleven-year-old Lauro Nuncio powered San Nicolas both at the plate and on the mound. Nuncio pounded a solo home run in the third inning and provided relief by inducing a strikeout with the bases loaded to end the top half of the fifth. Emiliano Valencia led Norte Hermosillo, going 4-for-4 with a double and scoring twice.
Coming into the final inning down by two, it appeared that Norte Hermosillo would repeat its group-stage heroics when it scored to make it 6-5 on a fielder's choice. With two on and two out, the result of the final at-bat this time was a groundout to the pitcher that crowned San Nicolas for the first time in its history.
"These kids have played together all their lives," said Luis Lauro Nuncio, Lauro's father and the former president of San Nicolas Little League. "My son has played baseball since he was 3 years old with this group, and baseball has given him the best lessons. [On Thursday] he came into save the semifinal. Just a day before, he had given up the losing home run against Norte Hermosillo. I was worried for him, but he taught me a lesson. To see him and his teammates get up from that and rise up just a day later was amazing."
San Nicolas had been denied in 2015 in the regional semifinals by a different Hermosillo squad. Its win this year assures the northeastern Mexican state of Nuevo Leon its second representative in the Little League World Series in just three years.
San Nicolas joins Seoul, South Korea (Asia-Pacific Region), and New South Wales (Australia Region) as the first teams to qualify for this year's Little League World Series. San Nicolas, now officially Team Mexico, will face the winner of the Latin American Region in Round 1 of the International bracket.
The last Mexican team to win the Little League World Series was Guadalupe, also a suburb of Monterrey, in 1997. Guadalupe defeated Mission Viejo (California) 5-4.