Clayton Wigley admitted that he felt nauseated when he stepped up to the plate in the sixth inning of Wednesday night’s Southwest Regional championship game.
But when he saw a fastball he could hit, his eyes lit up and his nerves were gone.
Wigley’s solo homer over the center-field fence with two outs in the top of the sixth lifted Texas East to a 2-1 win over Texas West before an overflow crowd at Norcross Stadium.
With the win, the Lufkin team earned a trip to the Little League World Series beginning Aug. 17 in Williamsport, Pa.
“We’ve been dreaming about it ever since we started playing, watching it on TV and everything,” Wigley said. “It’s crazy that it’s actually come true.”
Wigley had hit for first baseman Mark Requena in the fourth inning and struck out against Cade Smith, the starting pitcher for the San Antonio McAllister National squad.
But when Requena hurt his ankle on a play at first base, Wigley got a chance to hit again in the sixth against ace Brennan Greer with the game tied 1-1.
Wigley made up for his strikeout by pounding a fastball deep over the center-field fence to give Texas East a 2-1 lead.
“That young man is amazing,” said Texas East manager Bud Maddox. “He’s a great kid. He’s a big part of the team even though he doesn’t have a lot of playing time in the field. We put him up there to bat and he’s always coming up with something big. I’ve been saying I’ve got to get him more at-bats.”
Texas West manager Jeremy Farber was well aware of Texas East’s power throughout the lineup. On Saturday, Texas East pulled off an 11-10 win over Texas West in seven innings. Texas West had to fight out of the losers bracket to earn a rematch in the championship game.
“We’ve had two great baseball games with those guys and came up on the losing end of both,” Farber said. “It’s the best team we played all summer. They have tremendous power. Facing those guys, they can hit all the way through the lineup and the guys off the bench can hit. You’ve got to be really careful how you pitch those guys.”
After Wigley’s homer, Texas East still had to face some of Texas West’s best hitters in the bottom of the sixth.
Hunter Ditsworth pitched a tremendous game for Texas East as he allowed four hits and struck out seven through five innings. But he walked Greer to open the sixth and had to leave the game as he hit the 85-pitch limit.
Chip Buchanan relieved and forced Levi Castilleja to hit into a double play before Max Williams grounded out to end the game to clinch a World Series berth.
“It’s very exciting especially for the players,” Maddox said. “This is what they’ve been striving for and talking about. This summer they’ve gone to work and accomplished it. They’ve worked their tails off every day two times a day, and they accomplished what they set out to do.”
Ditsworth gave Texas East a 1-0 lead in the first inning when he slugged a homer over the right-field fence off Smith.
That lead held until the fifth when Texas West scored its only run. After Lucas Gary singled, Kody Copeland placed a bunt that Ditsworth fielded. But his throw to second base sailed into the outfield and Gary scored all the way from first base to tie the game.
Smith scattered five hits and struck out seven in five innings for Texas West before Greer relieved in the sixth.
“Cade got us five solid innings,” Farber said. “Honestly, I was hoping to get two innings. We could have run him out there in the sixth, but we decided to take a shot with our No. 1.”