PITTSFIELD, Mass. – Moment after his team lost a heart-breaking, 15-12 decision in the Massachusetts Little League Section 1 title game, Leominster Manager Rob Lora made a bold prediction.
“I’ve already put it out there in the [Fitchburg] Sentinel in Central Mass, and I told my friends here [in the Berkshire County media] to make sure it goes in tomorrow: I already put the state of Massachusetts on warning,” the Hoosac Valley High School alumnus said. “Whoever won this game today is going to win the state title.”
If that Bay State title is decided on heart, it is hard to think of any two teams better positioned to win it all.
The Pittsfield Little League American Division All-Stars came out of the loser’s bracket of the double-elimination sectional to earn a return trip to the state final with back-to-back wins of Lora’s Leominster squad.
Leominster, meanwhile, rebounded from a loss in the first game of the championship round on Friday night, made the two-hour trek west for a 1 p.m. start, and erased almost all of a 9-1 third-inning deficit, rallying for four runs in the bottom of the sixth before Pittsfield American center fielder Aiden Arseneau made a sterling play to end the game.
With one out and a man on second and the tying run on deck, Leominster’s Justin Little hit a ball to short center that appeared to be dropping to extend the rally.
But a hard-charging Arseneau made a diving catch, came up and fired to second to double off the runner and send the Americans to Braintree for Friday’s start of the state tourney.
“I thought I had a good jump on it,” Arseneau said. “I was thinking, ‘I got it, and throw it to second.’ “
“I know Aiden’s ability in the outfield,” Pittsfield American Manager Ty Perrault said. “He doesn’t play much outfield, but I’ve got him on my house league team. We always have him in the outfield once in a while, and I’ve seen him make many diving catches. And that’s why we put him in there today because I knew this was going to be a hitting game.
“But that one, I didn’t think was high enough. I thought it was down.”
After Arsenau went down to get it and made the relay to Ben Sykes for the outfield assist and game-ending double play, Pittsfield American finally could break out the smiles after a game that – early on – looked like it would be a laugher.
Pittsfield scored three runs in each of the first three innings to go ahead, 9-1.
Arseneau’s first big contribution of the afternoon was a two-run double in the first inning.
In the second, Sykes, Sebastian Herrera, and Arseneau each drove in a run to make it 6-1.
In the third, Sykes hit a two-run double and Brendan Merwin drove in a run to make it an eight-run lead and start Pittsfield fans thinking about another mercy-rule win like Friday’s in Central Mass.
But Leominster was not going anyplace.
In the bottom of the third for the designated home team, Vitto Piermarini came off the bench as a pinch-hitter and launched a two-out, three-run home run to left that easily cleared the tents that the fans had set up behind the outfield fence.
Riding the momentum of that moon shot, Davin Hjelm followed with a pinch-hit double and scored on Michael Thompson’s RBI single to make it a 9-5 game with three innings left.
When Pittsfield starter Merwin (five strikeouts) retired the side, Perrault called his team together at the dugout gate to regroup.
“I just told them that this game was going to go down right to the end, and we had to keep the foot on the gas pedal,” Perrault said. “We had to keep scoring. The three-run innings were great. We kept talking back and forth with their third base coach who said, ‘Look at those threes.’
“I said, ‘We need that. We’re going to need that against you guys.’ “
Pittsfield American scored three in the fourth on a two-run double by Jonathan Parsons and an RBI single by Herrera (3-for-5, four RBIs).
In the fifth, Herrera doubled in a pair of runs and Arseneau scored on a wild pitch to give Pittsfield American 15 runs..
But in between those rallies, Leominster’s Rico Lora and Aiden Courchane each doubled in a run in a two-run fourth that ended when Pittsfield American’s Eli Kristenson went to the mound in relief of starter Brendan Merwin to get the final out on a strikeout.
Kristenson went on to finish the game on the hill.
“Eli gutted it out,” Perrault said. “Like with Mason [Daley] the other night, he had only thrown one inning [in the all-star season] up to this time, other than in practice and bullpens. But, statistically, he was our most accurate pitcher in all our scrimmages and practices. I knew he could throw strikes. We just had to lay defense behind him.
“But he didn’t seem to get flustered out there, even though there were a few errors behind him.”
A couple of borderline hit/error calls and one certain error helped Leominster put four runs across in the sixth.
But Kristenson also benefited from a couple of inning-ending defensive gems.
In addition to Arseneau’s game-ender, Herrera took a relay from left field on a fifth-inning, two out double and fired to catcher Mario Zerbato for the putout to catch a runner attempting to score from first.
Perrault knows his team is battle-tested and ready for the state tournament, one step away from the New England Regionals in Bristol, Conn.
“They just had heart and didn’t give up,” he said. “They’ve been resilient. Resilient is the word for what they’ve been all week.
“We’ll see some good teams, we always do. But the states are a lot of fun because it’s a really good atmosphere. Everyone is proud to be in the final four of the state. We’re gonna give it our best. Like Coach Lora said, we’ve got to do it now.”
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