Pa. gets home-field advantage at LLWS

MILL HALL, Pa. (AP) - August 16, 2011

The regulars will be watching the Little League World Series.

Youth baseball's marquee tournament is played on what's supposed to be a neutral field, though the Keystone Little League team from Clinton County, Pa., will have what amounts to a home-field advantage when they take the field later this week in South Williamsport, just about 30 miles from their home.

The 16-team World Series starts Thursday, and the Pennsylvania squad makes its debut Friday night against LaGrange, Ky.

"No BINGO Friday 8-19," the sign in front of the Mill Hall fire hall read Monday night. "Going to watch Keystone play ball."

It's big news in this rural, blue-collar region of central Pennsylvania, which has a rich history with Little League baseball. Williamsport is the birthplace of the organization.

Hours after defeating Paramus, N.J., 5-2, in the Mid-Atlantic region final in Bristol, Conn., Pennsylvania received a hero's welcome when they pulled into Williamsport after a five-hour bus ride Monday. Hundreds of people lined the route in the rain before the bus pulled into the sprawling Little League complex across the river in South Williamsport with a police escort.

"It's overwhelming," manager Bill Garbrick said in a phone interview Tuesday. "The kids are just eating it up, seeing the lines of people. I'm sure seeing that crowd on Friday night will be a big confidence booster."

It's already been a long couple days for Pennsylvania, which had to finish the championship game Monday after the game was suspended Sunday by rain.

Not that third baseman-pitcher Cole Reeder or his teammates were tired from the long schedule.

"No one really slept," the 13-year-old said about the anxious bus trip to the World Series.

The Pennsylvania players are already familiar with the Little League complex, having played district playoff games there this year and previous seasons. That may help their cause, as well.

A team from State College, Pa., about 60 miles southwest of Williamsport, advanced to the Mid-Atlantic region finals in 2001 before being defeated by a squad from New York City - one eventually disqualified after it was discovered that star pitcher Danny Almonte was 14.

The last Williamsport area team to make it to the series was the city's Newberry league team in 1969. Lock Haven won the Little League World Series in 1948.

Little League officials, not surprisingly, are preparing for a big crowd Friday. The game, initially scheduled for 5 p.m. at Volunteer Stadium, the smaller of the two venues for the World Series with a capacity of 6,000, was moved late Monday to 8 p.m. at Lamade Stadium. That venue can seat 9,000, but also accommodate another 35,000 more on the grassy, terraced hill above the outfield.

Kentucky coach Brad Bates' club estimates about 150 to 200 family members and fans will travel to Pennsylvania for Friday's game. Seeking more support, Bates also jokingly asked for any "Kentuckian who is an SEC fan" and lives in the mid-Atlantic to root on the little sluggers from LaGrange.

"We may be a little bit of an underdog, but that's OK," Bates said. "I'm sure our fans are going to be excited to be here."

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