SAN BERNARDINO >> No manager. No problem.
Drew Rutter hit two home runs and got the last out from the mound as Santa Margarita Little League, playing without suspended manager C.J. Ankrum, defeated St. George, Utah’s Dixie Little League, 11-7, on Saturday night in the West Regional championship game at Al Houghton Stadium.
“I was just trying to block out all the noise and swing as hard as I could,” said Rutter, who had seven hits and nine RBI in the tournament.
Rutter was 2 for 4 with three RBI for Southern California (16-0 overall), the West representative at the upcoming Little League World Series, to be played Aug. 17-27 in Williamsport, Pa.
“This is incredible. I can’t explain it. I can’t put into words what this feeling is like,” Rutter said.
Ankrum, suspended for one game by the Little League International Tournament Committee on Friday for his use of inappropriate language during ESPN’s broadcast of Santa Margarita’s 12-8 win over Hawaii Hilo in the semifinals, celebrated with his team on the field.
“It was tough,” Ankrum said. “Taking this team to the Promised Land in San Bernardino and you’ve got to sit out for the championship game, but at the end of the day what happened, happened. We all make mistakes and it’s how you deal with it.”
Southern California jumped to an early 3-0 lead on Rutter’s two-run home run in the top of the first inning and back-to-back doubles from Garrett Strenger and Danny Lawler in the second.
Starting pitcher Bobby Gray walked the first two batters in the bottom of the second and it came back to hurt him when Cole Decastro, Utah’s No. 9 hitter, blasted a game-tying three-run homer.
Gray was unfazed, however, coming up first in the third and jacking the second pitch over the fence in right-center, and Santa Margarita scored three more times with two out for a 7-3 lead.
“We just had to play with more intensity,” Bobby Gray said. “We had to turn it up.”
Rutter went opposite field for his second home run, crushing the first pitch he saw through a pop-up tent in the left-field pavilion for an 8-3 lead in the fourth.
Utah finally got to Gray in the fifth as Mason Kesterson and Parker Andrus launched two-run home runs to get within a run at 8-7 heading into the final inning.
“You felt the momentum shift and you’re right on the cusp of something magnificent from our perspective, but we met a very good Southern California team,” Utah manager Aaron McArthur said. “They hit…