- Associated Press - Friday, August 24, 2012

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Hance Smith’s eyes widened in the dugout as he watched Quinton Gago send a homer well over the left-field fence.

The boys from Petaluma, Calif., are packing quite the punch from the plate at the Little League World Series.

Smith hit two homers, including a first-inning grand slam, and California pounded out 12 hits in an 11-1, five-inning victory over San Antonio on Thursday night to reach the U.S championship game.

California will play Goodlettsville, Tenn., on Saturday.

Smith, 13, is trying to remember to keep his hands out in front of his body before every at-bat.

“With that thought in mind, I keep going to the plate,” the power-hitting shortstop said. “It’s been working out so far.”

Smith finished 3 for 3 with five RBIs, and Gago had two hits and two RBIs.

Starter Danny Marzo, already a California hero for hitting a game-ending homer this week, came up big on the mound with 11 strikeouts in five innings.

He was gracious on the mound, too, after Texas’ Jordan Cardenas went deep in the third. The 12-year-old Marzo greeted Cardenas with a high-five with his glove hand as Cardenas jogged down the third-base line.

Earlier, Aguadulce, Panama, edged Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, 2-1 to advance to the international final against Japan.

California didn’t have quite as difficult a time against Texas, the game ending in the bottom of the fifth due to Little League’s10-run rule.

“Runs early help,” said California manager Eric Smith, Hance’s proud father. “It gives confidence to our pitcher and just makes everything a little easier.”

The Petaluma boys managed just two hits off Texas pitching in the decisive six-run first — but both balls landed over the outfield fence.

California loaded the bases on three walks. A wild pitch brought home the first run, and the bases were loaded again after Austin Paretti reached first on a dropped third strike.

Smith then hit a 2-2 pitch that just cleared the wall in left-center 225 feet away.

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