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LITTLE LEAGUE WORLD SERIES

Defense the key in US bracket

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Lamar National Little League of Richmond, Texas, is batting .440 and has scored 51 runs in four games at the Little League World Series. Conejo Valley, of Thousand Oaks, Calif., is batting .354 and has outscored opponents, 25-4.

But anyone anticipating a slugfest when the teams meet in today's US championship game may be disappointed.

Both teams said yesterday they're emphasizing defense. The international championship pits Curacao, Netherlands Antilles (4-0) against Guadalupe, Mexico (3-1) in a rematch of a game Curacao won, 3-2, in pool play.

"I really believe it will come down to the things that most baseball games come down to, and that's pitching and defense," Texas manager Jim Michalek said. "We're thrilled to death that we're hitting the ball well, but it's more important to me that we continue to do the other two things."

"I'm hoping that it comes down to a war with the pitchers, a 3-2, 6-4 ballgame -- in our favor, of course," California manager Tom Ginther said.

California (4-0) will start Cody Thomson, a hard thrower who's allowed just two hits and no earned runs in five innings in the series.

But Thomson hasn't faced a team with the offensive firepower of Texas (4-0). Randal Grichuk, the only holdover from the Texas team that reached the US semifinals last year, is batting .769 with four home runs to lead six Texas players batting .500 or better.

"I think we can all admit that when we're not doing what we're supposed to do, we look up to Randal to pick us up, get a big hit or something," teammate Matt Daniels said.

"I know they have some really good hitters," Thomson said of Texas. "I've just got to keep the ball down to them, because anything up they're going to hit it hard somewhere."

Of course, that's the same thing Daniels said of California. Although California hasn't put up the offensive numbers of Texas, they have five players batting .375 or better.

Daniels, who has allowed just six hits and one earned run in two starts, said he was particularly concerned with Danny Leon and John Lister, who have combined for four of California's five home runs.

"I saw Danny Leon, I think with two strikes, he got a changeup on his ankles and he drove it into the back bushes of Lamade [Stadium]," Daniels said. "He's one I definitely need to watch out for.

"But the main thing is you have to keep that team off the basepaths, because they're very aggressive on the bases."

Walter Montemayor of the Mexico team said he was looking forward to a second shot at Curacao, the one team that has beaten Mexico in the series.

"I want to represent the international bracket by beating the team that beat us," Montemayor said through an interpreter.

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