WESTFIELD, Mass. -- Say this for the Pittsfield Babe Ruth Baseball 13-year-old All-Stars: They gave fans their money’s worth at this week’s World Series.
While the other nine teams at the championship had at least one game that was a little bit lopsided in the end, here are the margins of victory in the New England champs’ five games: two runs, one run, two runs, one run, one run.
That last one-run margin of victory? It belonged to the Ohio Valley champs from Janesville, Wis., who Tuesday rallied for two runs in the top of the seventh to hand Pittsfield a 4-3 loss that ended its tournament run in the first round of bracket play.
It was a heart-stopping run for manager Paul Brindle’s team, which never led or trailed an opponent by more than two runs and for whom every pitch, every at-bat and every defensive chance had the potential to be the difference between winning and losing for 35 innings over the course of six days.
“Actually, it looked like it took a little toll today,” Brindle said of the strain of the series of nail-biters. “I mean, we made mistakes we normally don’t make. I think kids were pressing.
“We talk about playing seven innings of baseball, you know, every pitch matters. But, in this tournament, it actually did really matter -- every single pitch, every inning. And if you made one little mistake, you either won or lost the game because of it.”
Janesville moves on to face American Division champion Fargo, N.D., which had a bye through the first round of the six-team bracket thanks to its 4-0 record in pool play.
Pittsfield goes home with a 2-3 record that does not begin to show just how well the team played on the big stage.
Pittsfield, which allowed just 12 runs in five games, did something Tuesday it had not done since Thursday’s World Series opener. It scored the game’s first run.
In fact, it scored two in the bottom of the first after starting pitcher Damon Pause worked his way out of a bases-loaded jam by striking out the side -- the last two with three men on.
Christian Salzarulo got Pittsfield going with a one-out single to left. He moved up on a double by Evan Blake that put two men in scoring position for cleanup man Antonio Scalise.
Scalise singled up the middle to score both runners and give Pittsfield a 2-0 lead.
It did not last long.
Janesville again loaded the bases with one out in the top of the second. This time, it converted with a pair of RBI walks. The first came at the end of a nine-pitch at-bat by Aiden Schenk.
Pittsfield answered in the third with a three-hit rally.
Nick Brindle started by dropping a ball into left for a single. He moved up on a single by Blake and a walk by Scalise before Keegan Crouse singled to right to make it 3-2.
The rally was cut short, though, when Owen Salvatore’s line drive to the left side turned into a double play.
Pause and reliever Brayden Gutzmer made that one-run lead stand up for Pittsfield over the next four innings, not allowing a hit or a run and stranding four runners in the process.
“I’m really proud of [Pause],” Bramer said. “He’s a very good pitcher, and I had not pitched him all year. I had only pitched him in scrimmage games. I pitched him at practice. And so, you know, we’re in an elimination game, and I’m asking a kid to come in and pitch who hasn’t pitched for us. And I thought he settled in, did a nice job, got us to where we wanted to be.
“We bring Brayden Gutzmer, who has been our closer every game and been lights out. And, today, we beat ourselves. There’s no question about it.”
Pittsfield’s best chance to get an insurance run late came in the fifth when Blake (2-for-2) walked and stole second with two out. Scalise followed with a single to right, but Janesville managed to cut Blake down at the plate in a bang-bang play that the Pittsfield faithful will be talking about -- and arguing -- for years to come.
Two innings later, the Wisconsin squad was down to its last chance to stay alive. And needing baserunners any way it could get them, the Ohio Valley champs did what they needed to do.
The Janesville leadoff man started by doing his best Rockettes imitation, high-kicking into the way of what could have been a called second strike, and he was rewarded with a free pass to first base.
Two batters later, Gutzmer hit another batter to put two aboard. And reliever Christian Salzarulo walked the first man he faced to load the bases.
A pitch that got to the backstop allowed the first runner to score, and Tyler Horkan laid down a sacrifice bunt up the first base line to drive in the go-ahead run.
Pittsfield catcher Scalise ended the inning by firing to third to catch a man attempting to steal, but the damage was done.
Pittsfield’s last chance to undo it and extend the game started fortuitously when Cam Sime worked a leadoff walk. Tommy Mullin bunted Sime into scoring position, and a passed ball got the potential tying run to third.
But Janesville’s Denver Hughes got the second out swinging at a third strike and ended the game on a ground ball to short.
Though it ended too soon for the players, the summer of 2019 will go down as yet another high watermark for Pittsfield youth baseball.
“This team is very special,” Brindle said. “You’ve got a lot of really good athletes. They’ve had success … since they were 9 years old. It’s continued every year.
“We fully expected to be in this World Series this year, so I’m happy that we made it. We competed here. Every single game was a one-run game, every single game, whether we won or lost. It shows that we have very good baseball in Pittsfield, very good youth coaches, preparing the guys. And I think the future’s still bright for Pittsfield baseball, of course, with this group of kids.”
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