The Lakeville Little League all stars set the tone for their run in the Eastern Region Invitational in Cranston last Monday. Trailing 10-1 after one-and-a-half innings, the Massachusetts champs scored the next 19 runs of the game and won 20-10.
Out of 25 regional games, that one stood as the wildest of the tournament.
For Massachusetts, it was more than that.
“After that 10-run inning the other day, they believed they could do anything,” said manager Mike Heath.
And they did it all.
After knocking off unbeaten Connecticut in the New England championship on Friday, Massachusetts rallied from a 5-3 deficit against Pennsylvania with seven runs in the fifth inning on its way to a 10-5 victory and the Eastern Region championship.
“Being down 10-1 and scoring the next 19 runs, that showed us what we could do,” Heath said.” These kids can hit, but hitting is contagious. That's how it always is. Sometimes we do start slow, but once we get started, we can get it going. We got nervous the first few innings in here, but once we started hitting, we knew we'd keep hitting.”
Media Little League, the Mid-Atlantic champs, jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning on a two-run double by Max Brown and added a run in the third on an RBI single by Owen Evert. On the mound, Brown held Massachusetts to one hit in the first two innings.
But Massachusetts quickly chipped away. A single by Jack Bennett, a walk to Kyle Heath and a single by Dom Froio started a third-inning rally. Colin Fahey delivered a single, Hayden Lens knocked a run home with a fielder's choice and Froio raced home with the tying run on an error.
After that, Massachusetts seemed to have momentum on its side. Froio pitched a perfect fourth, needing just 11 pitches to get his team back to the plate.
But Pennsylvania wasn't done. After Brown worked a scoreless frame, Leo Burman and Brown led off the fifth with singles. Evert then knocked in a run with a single and Brown raced home on a wild pitch to make it 5-3.
That's when Massachusetts really got going.
Froio got hit by a pitch to start the bottom of the fifth, and Colin Ahearn drew a walk. Pennsylvania forced Froio out at third on a ground ball by Fahey, but the fast start to the inning forced Brown to hit the pitch-count limit.
Lens greeted reliever Brian Virbitsky with a single that scored Ahearn from second. Ben Arter then hit a shot up the middle and Fahey raced around from second. The throw beat him to the plate, but the ball popped out and Fahey was safe with the tying run.
“Tough at-bats. Even with two strikes, they were battling and working the kid,” Mike Heath said. “That was the difference. We really started fighting. In the beginning, I thought they were fighting harder than we are. But then we had some real tough at-bats. Even if the kids got out, they kept fighting and the other kids see that.”
And Massachusetts didn't stop there. An error brought Lens home with the go-ahead run. A walk and a fielder's choice kept the line moving before Kyle Heath and Froio delivered RBI singles. Ahearn then ripped a two-run double, and though Froio was thrown out at home trying to score from first, the damage had been done. Massachusetts led 10-5.
“If we make a couple of those plays, it's a different game, but I tell you, you really have to give them credit,” said Pennsylvania manager Tom Furman. “They really hit the ball from top to bottom and they hit the ball hard. So you've got to be ready to make plays, and we just weren't ready in that one inning.”
Armed with the lead, reliever Jackson Murray – who had come on in the fifth – went to work. He got two quick outs to start the top of the sixth, before Nate Furman reached on an error to keep hope alive. But Murray struck out the next batter to clinch the championship.
“Dom has been phenomenal,” Mike Heath said. “He didn't get to pitch much in the regular season, but every time since districts, he's gone at least five innings. Jackson – that was as hard as I've seen him throw. He just came in and shut the door.”
While Massachusetts celebrated, Pennsylvania took the loss hard, but the team still left Cranston as the Mid-Atlantic champion. And it was a summer to remember.
“It's really what Little League's all about,” Tom Furman said. “It's about the kids, and the kids had a great time. It's a shame we couldn't end it with a win, but they'll still have great memories of this whole thing.”
As for Massachusetts, the stars were heading back to Lakeville to continue their celebration. It's been a long year – the team first got together in the winter – but it had a perfect ending.
“They started back in January,” Heath said. “We did an AAU team with the same group. After a while, you stop being surprised. They're phenomenal. They're great kids. They fight. Never are we the biggest team, but they keep going. They're unbelievable.”