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Spain knew they were underdogs entering the LLWS tournament

WILLIAMSPORT — Oscar Roman didn’t mince words with his players when they spoke about playing Japan on Friday at the Little League World Series. He couldn’t afford to.

Spain doesn’t have anything remotely close to the tradition of success Japan has had in South Williamsport over the last 25 to 30 years. So when Roman saw his Europe-Africa Region champions drew the defending World Series champions in the first round of the tournament, he flat out told his players they were the underdogs.

But it also allowed him to explain to his players they were playing with house money. There was no pressure on them when they stepped on the field at Volunteer Stadium on Friday afternoon. And they sure as heck played like it.

Catalunya Little League from Barcelona, Spain, controlled the first 3 1/2 innings of Friday’s game. It took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning which sent audible gasps through a capacity crowd which surely wasn’t anticipating it to happen. Starting pitcher Juan Salazar was at worst effective, and at his best unhittable against a potent Kawaguchi Little League lineup until a weather delay for lightning pilfered the momentum gained by the first team of native Spaniards to reach South Williamsport.

“We told the kids we were the underdog,” Roman said. “I don’t know that anybody believed in us. So we told the kids the pressure was on (Japan) and not on us. We told them the only thing they had to do was come out and have fun, and the kids did it for the first four innings and I couldn’t be happier.”

Roman himself was surprised when his team took a 1-0 lead in the first inning. The most wins obtained by a team from Spain in the Little League World Series came the last time someone played the 1990 Nintendo game Little League Baseball: Championship Series. Prior to this week, the last time a team from Spain played at the Little League World Series was 1986, long before any of this year’s players were even born.

That’s why Roman was realistic about his team’s chance entering Friday’s game. Japan has produced 11 World Series champions, including last year’s from the Kitasuna Little League in Tokyo. Spain’s opponent yesterday, Kawaguchi Little League from Kawaguchi, Japan, made one other appearance at the Series in 2006. Little League wasn’t even an option for the players from Spain until five years ago.

But in that time, Spain has sent a team to the Senior League World Series, and now Catalunya Little League is on center stage for the world to see. And what Roman learned from Friday’s game is that his boys are more than capable of competing with the best teams in the tournament.

He said following his press conference Friday night he planned to talk with his team about how it took a 1-0 lead and trailed only 3-1 after four innings (because of a pair of errors) and show them how strong a force they can be no matter who they play.

“I keep reminding them every single inning that we’re in.”

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