Thousand Oaks (Calif.) 3, Preston (Md.) 1

Life will finally go back to normal for Preston, Md.

The little Eastern Shore town's baseball team, which drew many citizens to north-central Pennsylvania, ended its run through the Little League World Series with a 3-1 loss to Thousand Oaks, Calif., in a U.S. semifinal game Thursday night at Lamade Stadium.

"I think it'll take a few years for [the players] to realize fully what they've achieved here," Preston Manager Curtis Payne said. "They see ESPN on TV, they see the blimp at football games, they've seen crowds before. Really, they were just playing little league baseball this week."

Thousand Oaks pitcher Sean McIntyre allowed one run and six hits over six innings, and helped his own cause with three hits and two RBI as his team, representing the Cornejo Valley Little League, advanced to the series semifinals. Thousand Oaks (4-0) will play Richmond, Tex., in the U.S. championship Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

The loss completed a thrilling run for the team from the South Caroline Little League. It had been on the brink of elimination in the district, state and Mid-Atlantic Region tournaments only to come back and win each. Preston was the fifth Maryland team in the tournament's 58 years to qualify for the World Series.

For the past week, it seemed that almost all of Preston (population 566) relocated had made the five-hour trip to the annual home of the series. On Thursday, the large Preston faction included several people wearing red paint on their faces and bodies.

"There's been a lot of excitement here," Payne said. "Our whole community has been behind us. There are people here who don't even know anyone on the team. We owe a lot to the whole community when we return."

Thousand Oaks scored its first run with two outs in the third, when Timmy Ginther reached on a bunt single and McIntyre doubled to right field. After Preston tied the game in the bottom of the fourth, Thousand Oaks pushed the go-ahead run across with two outs in the fifth. Danny Leon reached second on a misplayed popup and scored on a single by McIntyre. Catcher John Lister added a solo home run in the sixth to cap the scoring for Thousand Oaks.

Preston had a runner on base during every inning, led by second baseman Hunter Bennett, who was 2 for 3 with a double. But three innings ended for Preston with a runner on second base. The team's lone run came on an infield single by Thomas Howe that drove in Ben LaNeve.

Thousand Oaks "clobbered the ball all week," Payne said. "We had to keep it close to give our hitters a chance, and we did that. We just couldn't quite score the runs."

Members of the South Caroline Little League team from Maryland watch the last out. "Our whole community has been behind us," Manager Curtis Payne said. Preston's Wil Staton makes a backhand grab in the fifth inning. "We just couldn't quite score the runs," Manager Curtis Payne said of the loss.