ANDOVER, Mass. -- How big was Matthew Keegan for the Pittsfield Little League American Division 10-year-old All-Stars in Sunday’s 9-8, come-from-behind victory in the State Championship game?
Asked to comment on a big at-bat by Keegan in the second inning, Pittsfield Manager B.J. Jefferson misheard and jumped straight to a big at-bat by Keegan in the seventh.
The former was Pittsfield’s first hit of the game and sparked a five-run rally to tie the game. The latter produced the baserunner who scampered home on a wild pitch to give the Americans the extra-inning victory over Swansea and the ultimate prize for 10-year-old Little Leaguers in the commonwealth.
In between, Keegan delivered 3-⅔ innings of one-run relief that allowed Pittsfield to right its ship after a rough start at the Andover Little League complex.
“Matthew’s come through all three tournaments for us,” Jefferson said, referring to the District 1 tournament in Great Barrington, the Section 1 tourney and this weekend’s four-team affair in Andover.
“If we needed a guy on base, he gets on somehow, whether it’s a walk or a hit. If we need a play at first, he comes up with a play at first. If we need him to pitch, he comes in and throws strikes.”
The boy of the hour was at a loss to describe the experience of Saturday’s 4-2 semi-final win and Sunday’s dramatic walk-off state title.
“My mind is just … I can’t put it into words,” Keegan said. “It was so fun.”
The start of Sunday’s state final was anything but.
Swansea’s Chase Smith led off the game with a double down the third-base line, and the Section 2 champs added a single and another double in scoring three runs. The added two more in the second with two singles and a sacrifice fly to jump out to a 5-0 lead.
Swansea starting pitcher Drew Soares retired his fourth straight batter to start the bottom of the second, but that brought up Keegan, who ripped a single up the middle to give the Americans life when they really needed it.
Alec Houghtaling and Jacob Welch each worked a walk, and Jacob Knauth hit an infield single to score Keegan and give the Americans their first run of the game.
Houghtaling, Welch and Knauth came home on balls to the backstop -- a popular scoring method for Pittsfield on Sunday. Kydd Kearns, who reached with a walk, ended up coming home on a bases-loaded ground ball off the bat of Aiden Arseneau to tie the game, 5-5.
In the third, Pittsfield took the lead, and its aggressive baserunning helped produce an insurance run.
Jackson Boehm came off the bench to earn a leadoff walk. He took third on a couple of balls to the backstop ahead of Kearns, who went to second on a walk to put two runners in scoring position. Jack Wendling (2-for-3) hit a two-run single to give the Americans a 7-5 lead.
Swansea got one back in the top of the fourth, but Keegan held the lead by stranding two runners.
In the fifth, Swansea got a two-out base hit, but Keegan got the third out on a comebacker to the mound to keep it 7-6.
Pittsfield was three outs away from the crown when Swansea’s Zach McLean led off the sixth with a single up the middle.
He moved up on an infield single, and, after a Smith single and a passed ball, Swansea had two runners in scoring position and nobody out.
Ben Lopes hit a shot to the left side that Aiden Arseneau snared on a dive. He then got up and fired to Cooper Reed at third to complete the game’s only double play.
Swansea’s Brady Sylvester drove in Smith to tie the game, but Wendling, who took over on the hill for Keegan after McLean’s leadoff hit, got the third out on a ground ball to Kearns at second to end the inning.
Swansea’s Jett Vadeboncoeur pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the sixth to get his team to extra innings.
In the top of the seventh, Nate Todd got a one-out single and moved up to scoring position on an error for Swansea. On the next hitter, Kydd made a diving catch at second for out No. 2. After Swansea’s Smith reached to put two men on with two out, Wendling got a pop fly to Arseneau at short to get the Americans back in the dugout.
With Keegan leading off the seventh, Jefferson had a decision to make.
“Being late in the game, you’re always looking for baserunners, and you tell the kids to be patient, maybe take a pitch or two, maybe take a strike,” Jefferson said. “So in the sixth, I told kids, ‘Take a strike.’ I’m trying to get kids on so I can bunt them, move them over, stuff like that.
“So before the bottom of the seventh starts, [my coaches] came up to me and said, ‘Let Matt swing.’ I said, ‘I’m gonna let him swing. I just don’t want it to be a one-pitch out.’ … When he looked down at me for a sign, I said, ‘You know what, swing away.’ First pitch, there it was, a line drive up the middle that started the whole thing off.”
Jefferson called on Knauth to be a special pinch runner for Keegan at first, and he moved up on a wild pitch. Houghtaling bunted his way aboard, and another ball to the backstop gave the Americans runners on second and third with nobody out.
That is when the final pitch of the game was in the dirt, and Knauth alertly raced home and slid in just ahead of the pitcher’s tag to end the game and start the celebration for the Americans.
“We stuck together and we picked each other up,” Jefferson said. “I’ve never seen anything like it coming from a group of 10-year-old kids. I told these guys all month: They are the hardest working team in the state. They work hard, and they show up to practice every day. They go out there and give me everything they have at practice every day.
“I’m absolutely grateful for that and thankful for them for doing that. And, as you can see, hard work paid off. It’s such a proud group of kids, and I can’t emphasize enough how proud I am of them and how happy I am for them.
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