The Concord Little League all-stars knew before Thursday that they wouldn't be qualifying for the New England championship game at the 9/10 Eastern Regional in Cranston, R.I. So the New Hampshire stars treated Thursday's pool play finale as their championship – and they played like it until the very end.
After leading throughout, New Hampshire watched championship-bound Lincoln, R.I., score five runs in the top of the sixth to jump ahead by two runs. But in the bottom of the sixth, New Hampshire rallied for three runs, winning the game 11-10 on Brooks Craigue's walk-off double.
“Our view of it was we were obviously out of the tournament, but we're playing the best teams in New England and every game is a championship game,” said New Hampshire manager Tom Philbrick. “That's what we told the kids. Tonight was our championship game, and it was a great game. It was a battle. Very entertaining.”
New Hampshire finished the tournament at 2-2. Rhode Island, with a 3-0 mark in pool play, had already clinched a spot in the New England championship heading into Thursday. The Lincoln all-stars focused on lining up their pitching and getting a little extra time for some of their bench players.
That created some opportunities for New Hampshire, which they seized. They built a 4-0 lead and answered a three-run rally in the third by Rhode Island with four more runs.
It looked like New Hampshire would coast to a good finish.
As it turned out, the finish was still very good. There was just no coasting.
Rhode Island scored two runs in the fifth then exploded for five with two outs in the sixth. Kevin Masse knocked in the first run with a single, before a pair of walks loaded the bases. A passed ball allowed Masse to score, and Kaden Ethier followed with a blast to deep left that field that went for a two-run double and gave Rhode Island the 9-8 lead. An error allowed one more run in.
After finally ending the Rhode Island onslaught, New Hampshire gathered for its last at-bat.
“The message was that it's never over,” Philbrick said. “Baseball is never over. We were ready to do some hitting.”
Jamie Bruns beat out an infield single to start the sixth and Isaiah Robles followed with a base hit. Rhode Island pitcher Alex Ferranti struck out the next two batters, but one run scored on a passed ball to make it 10-9. After Ferranti departed, Masse came on and jumped ahead 0-2 on Cam McGonigle. But McGonigle worked to 1-2 then smacked a double into left to score Robles with the tying run.
Ryan Philbrick drew a walk to keep the inning alive for Craigue. Rhode Island had done all its damage off Craigue, who had come on in the fourth inning. He had to fight back tears on the mound – but as he strode to the plate, he had his chance at redemption.
“He felt terrible about giving up the five runs,” Tom Philbrick said. “It was his time to redeem himself.”
Craigue took two balls, then slammed the next pitch to deep left field. When it landed at the fence, McGonigle raced in with the winning run.
“Brooks is one of the best hitters that's down here,” Philbrick said. “I knew, once he stepped to the plate, that it was over.”
New Hampshire celebrated – and again, it felt like a championship. Had the team gone home with a loss, it would have changed their memories of the summer. But going home with a win like this one made it all a little sweeter.
“Once again, we had kids who were heroes and just came through,” Philbrick said. “It was awesome. Outstanding season, and this was a great experience for the kids. They'll never forget it. Every kid contributed. It was outstanding.”