SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Win or lose, the Little League World Series team from Uganda has become a hometown favorite.
The first team from Africa to advance to the Series in the 66-year history of the tourney did fall in its debut Friday. Aguadulce, Panama, defeated the boys from Lugazi 9-3.
Uganda's coaches said they didn't expect any parents of the players to make the expensive transatlantic trip to Pennsylvania.
But Uganda has still drawn vocal fans who cheered wildly, especially after Daniel Alio's towering home run to center in the sixth. He showed off a methodical homer trot that would have made David Ortiz proud.
"I thought I wouldn't hit a home run," the soft-spoken Alio said. "But my coach told me to make contact."
Uganda managed just three hits. They committed four errors.
But they had their share of highlights, too, like Alio's homer.
Or Alio backpedaling into short right to make a tough catch on a high popup.
Or pitcher Tonny Okello making a lunging catch of a weak popup on the first-base line while trying to avoid the runner.
Not a bad start at all considering this team is used to playing back home on old soccer fields strewn with pebbles and the occasional anthill.
Uganda's coaches hope their trip to the series and the experience playing before large crowds helps build more interest in baseball back home, where soccer is the dominant sport.
CANADA 13, MEXICO 9: Outfielder Thomas Neal's lunging catch saved an extra-base hit and helped Vancouver, British Columbia, beat the team from Nuevo Laredo.
The teams combined for 27 hits, but several defensive gems by Canada had fans buzzing.
Neal's catch was the most impressive after Mexico's Eduardo Abrego smacked a sinking liner to left-center with two outs in the third and a runner on first. Neal dashed to his right before diving for the catch with an outstretched glove just before the ball hit the turf.
"I told him he was my best friend now," pitcher Ataru Yamaguchi joked. "He wasn't before. He was my fourth (best friend), just to clarify."
TEXAS 5, NEW JERSEY 2: Jordan Cardenas homered and pitched 21/3 innings of hitless relief, and San Antonio took advantage of defensive miscues to beat Parsippany, N.J.
Cardenas gave Texas an early lead with his solo shot to right in the bottom of the first.
The Southwest champions added three more runs in the second thanks to two outfield errors.