PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- Monday’s sectional final in the Little League 8- to 10-year-old tournament had a little of everything: big offensive rallies, sterling defense, gutsy pitching and drama.
A little more drama than anyone expected going to the bottom of the sixth and a whole lot more drama than the hometown fans wanted to see.
But, in the end, the Pittsfield Little League National Division All-Stars held on for a 10-9 win and a berth in the state tournament.
The Nats, playing as designated visitors on their Myron Gray Field, took a 10-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth, but Holden rallied to draw within one and had runners at second and third when Brenden Socie struck out the second man he faced to end the game.
Socie, who played a strong game in center field and figured into several of those big defensive plays, was not even supposed to be on the mound.
But man on first, two out and a 2-1 count to Holden’s Hayden Braun in a one-run game, Pittsfield Nationals manager Mark Socie made a visit to the mound.
Unfortunately, it was his third trip of the inning, and, by rule, he had to make a pitching change.
The younger Socie went to the mound, gave up a single to Braun to put the potential winning run on base … and saved the game.
“He saved me,” Mark Socie said. “He absolutely saved me. That’s for sure.”
The elder Socie said he wasn’t too nervous when Holden did some early damage in its last at-bat, but as the Nats made uncharacteristic errors to help Holden get within striking distance, his concern level escalated.
“10-7, I was like, all right, ‘We’re in trouble,’ “ Socie said. “I looked at [coach Bryan Maloy] and said, ‘Why are you not nervous?’ He said, ‘Nah, we’ve got this.’ But I was nervous.
“And then I made that rookie manager mistake and went out too many times and had to replace Evan [Roccabruna]. Poor kid. I know he could have finished it for us. But it all worked out.”
And it made a winner of starter Jason Fields, who went one batter into the sixth before turning the ball over to Roccabruna.
Fields struck out three and scattered five hits, allowing just one unearned run, over the first five innings.
That unearned run came in the bottom of the first, after the Nats jumped out to a 6-0 lead in their first at-bat.
Roccabruna led off with a single and advanced on a couple of wild pitches before Cade Demary drove him home with a single to right.
After Demary got into scoring position on a productive groundout to the right side by Connor Paronto, Fields made it 2-0 with a single. A walk and a pair of two-run singles by Cam Reynolds and Aidan Underdown made it 6-0 before Holden came to bat.
The Nats tacked on what turned out to be crucial runs in the third, fourth and sixth.
In the third, Roccabruna hustled home when a pitch got to the backstop, and Demary (3-for-4), drove in his second run of the game.
In the fourth, Brenden Socie tripled to right and scored when Casen Blasioli reached on an error. In the top of the sixth, Reynolds walked and ended up scoring on Underdown’s single down the left field line to make it 10-1.
While the Nats’ offense was building up its lead, its defense was denying Holden chances to get back into it.
In the second, Socie in center threw out a batter trying to stretch a double into a triple.
In the third, a Holden player singled with runners on first and second. Socie’s throw home to prevent a run was the money, and catcher Paronto alertly relayed to Roccabruna at first to catch the batter, who was hung up between first and second.
In the fourth, Socie caught a deep fly ball and threw to Roccabruna to double off a runner for the game’s only double play.
In the fifth, Blondini made a tough play on a ground ball at third, and shortstop Demary leapt to snare a line drive on back-to-back plays.
All those plays loom even larger after a sixth inning in which the Nats’ defensive miscues helped fuel Holden’s comeback.
“It’s always that one inning that comes back to haunt you,” Mark Socie said. “We’ve been preaching that since day one: Minimize the errors and play mistake-free baseball to win Little League baseball games. Thankfully, we had a big enough lead today.
“But for five and a third innings, we played almost perfect baseball. Brenden made a couple of nice throws, Connor [Paronto] did great behind the plate, Fields was lights out on the mound. We preach … teamwork. It’s all heart. It’s all about who wants it more.”
The Pittsfield Nationals move on to this weekend’s four-team state tournament in Salem, Mass.
Holden 1, Pittsfield Americans 0
Holden did not need a big comeback, but it did do what its 8/10s could not: avenge a Saturday loss to a Pittsfield squad in the double-elimination sectional tournament.
That means the Pittsfield Americans make their first road trip of the post-season on Tuesday when they go to Holden for a winner-take-all championship game to see who carries the section’s flag into the state tourney.
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