BRISTOL, Conn. -- A hop and a homer conspired Sunday to end one magical run for the Pittsfield American Little League All-Stars.
Coventry, R.I., edged the Massachusetts Champions, 3-2, at Breen Field to earn New England’s berth in this week’s Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
Coventry’s Jake Mather capped a 3-for-3 performance with a solo home run to left to break a 2-2 tie in the top of the fifth inning, and Logan Lama limited a potent Pittsfield offense to three hits in 4-⅔ innings of work.
Pittsfield, which went 3-0 at the regional heading into Sunday’s rain-delayed final, rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the bottom of the third, but a couple of plays that went to video replay in the last of the sixth erased any chance of the kind of comeback the Americans posted in the state title game two weeks ago.
Pittsfield Manager Joe Skutnik pointed to an unfortunate bounce that fueled Rhode Island’s third-inning rally as one of the big differences in the ballgame.
“I think the issue was the bad hop to Sime at short,” Skutnik said of the Rhody rally. “Cam gets [that out], those two runs don’t happen. … I mean, yeah, coach [Pat] Bramer went out and talked to them. But the hops didn’t go our way today. They did the last time we played them.
“That was a key play.”
The hop in question gave Coventry first-and-second with one out in the third. After a wild pitch moved both men into scoring position, Pittsfield starter Evan Blake notched one of his seven strikeouts for the second out of the inning.
But Kody Fretts drove in a run, and another pitch got to the backstop to give Coventry a 2-0 lead.
Blake got the final out looking at a third strike to end the at-bat with a man on second base.
“The goal was to put pressure on them,” Rhode Island Manager Lou Simon said. “I have to tip my hat to Pittsfield. They’re a great team. Great competitors. And Evan is a great player.”
Pittsfield answered the go-ahead rally with two runs of its own in the bottom of the third.
Jake Duquette got things started with a pinch-hit, one-out, infield single, and Blake (who went 9-for-10 with two homers in the tournament) drew an intentional base on balls.
Antonio Scalise, Tommy Mullin and Owen Salvatore then worked three straight walks -- the last two for RBIs as Blake touched home to tie the game.
And on the mound, Blake settled down, pitching his only clean inning of the game in the top of the fourth to keep it a tie game.
But in the fifth, after Blake sat down the first two, Mather crushed a 2-0 pitch into the light stanchion in left to score the eventual winning run.
“When I got to an 0-2 count, you want to protect the plate,” Mather said. “But it was there, so I took it.”
Lama and reliever Anthony Colucci retired the Americans in order in the bottom of the fifth to protect the lead. Coventry shortstop Tyler Simon started a 6-3 double play to help keep Pittsfield scoreless.
Pittsfield reliever Sime, who started the sixth after Blake reached his pitch count, stranded a man at third base in the top of the sixth to keep it a one-run game. Along the way, he overcame the first of three video review calls to go against Pittsfield in the sixth.
The Americans appeared to get their first double play of the game for the inning’s second out, but after a review, the umpires determined that batter, Colucci, beat the throw at first. That gave Rhode Island first and third with one out.
Sime got the second out on a comebacker to the mound and the final out on a grounder to Blake at shortstop.
That gave Pittsfield one more chance to tie the game.
Sime led off the bottom of the sixth by hitting a shot over the left fielder’s head. He appeared to slide safely into second with the potential tying run, but a video review overturned the call on the field, giving Rhode Island the out.
Salvatore then reached on an errant throw off a groundball to the left side, but he was thrown out at second attempting to stretch the play -- a call that was confirmed by video review after Skutnik made the challenge.
“You never can fault a player for being aggressive [on the basepaths],” Skutnik said. “From Day One, we’ve said, I’m never going to yell at you for trying for the extra base when it’s a wise move. A little bit of bad luck for Cam, first base dislodged. What are you going to do.
“And I couldn’t see the play when Owen [Salvatore] went to second. We’re on [the first base side], so I couldn’t see where the ball went [from the dugout]. … But we can’t complain about trying to be aggressive and giving 100 percent.”
“Day One” for this Pittsfield Americans group actually came long before the 2018 all-star season got underway, Skutnik explained.
“The journey really started two years ago, when we had a group of 11-year-olds that, I think, we classified as the ‘Bad News Bears,’ “ Skutnik said. “They worked hard as 11-year-olds and eventually made it as one of the final four in the state.
“Four of the players who are on this year’s team were playing up with the 12-year-olds [that year]. When they all came together, it didn’t take much for them to all meld together. I think all of the kids thought we had a good chance to at least win the district and maybe do pretty well in the sectional. I’d be pretty disappointed if we weren’t in the state tournament, and we got there.
“This was a bonus. It was a great journey.”
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