Williamsport journey has R.I. roots


If you need a team to root for in the Little League World Series, the New England champion is always a good choice.

Especially this year.

Connecticut’s Fairfield American won the regional title over the weekend with a 14-0 title-game victory over New Hampshire. It was a fitting finish for the Connecticut squad, which out-scored opponents 60-8 on its way to a 6-0 record.

That regional performance looked familiar.

In 2010, when Cranston Western Little League hosted the first-ever 9/10-year-old Eastern Region Invitational, a Connecticut team dominated on its way to a 6-0 record and the championship.

It was Fairfield American.

Ten-year-old success doesn’t always equate to 12-year-old success, but in the case of this team, it’s been spot on. Eight of the players who were on that 10-year-old team are now on the 12-year-old squad.

And they’re heading to Williamsport.

Fairfield American was one of four teams from that 2010 Cranston tournament who were back in a regional this year. One of them – Vermont champion South Burlington – gave Fairfield a scare in the semifinals before Fairfield won 4-3 in extra innings. Maine champion Scarborough was also in Cranston, as was Delaware’s Newark National, who ended up one step short of Williamsport this year, losing 1-0 in the Mid-Atlantic championship game.

For anyone who watched the 2010 tournament, it’s not too surprising that Fairfield American is moving on. Ask Cranston Western officials and they’ll tell you the best team they’ve seen in three years of tournament play is Fairfield.

When they were 10, there was a gap between them and everybody else. Catcher Biagio Paoletta was the best hitter in Cranston, Matt Kubel and Ryan Meury the best pitchers. Two years later, they’re playing the same roles.

It seems the gap hasn’t closed much.

Fairfield has dominant pitching and talented hitters up and down the lineup. Rhode Island champ Coventry American – who beat Cranston Western in the state championship game – almost knocked Fairfield off in the pool play opener, but ended up losing 1-0. Fairfield won its next three pool play games 41-4.

That’s the thing about Fairfield. The team can win going away, but it can also win when things get tough.
I think that’s where the Cranston roots really show through.

In one of the regional broadcasts, the analysts were talking about how the Fairfield players had been with each other for years, how they knew how to play together and win together.

The summer of 2010 was where it began – and their week in Cranston was where Fairfield really started to take off. It was their first taste of regional competition, of the big stage.

I guess they liked it.

Even then, they knew how to win. They had that intangible quality that defines a lot of successful teams. In their final game in Cranston, the Fairfield stars led 5-0 in the sixth inning, but watched a team from New York rally. It was 5-3 and New York had the bases-loaded when Will Lucas, still a stand-out now, induced a game-ending ground ball.

I remember leaving the field that day and wondering if I’d hear about Fairfield American again in a few years.
I kind of hoped I would. I covered them a lot in the tournament, and you could tell that Fairfield was a team that did things the right way. They played good baseball, but they also had fun. Western staged a Challengers Division game before the championship that year, and when the YMCA came over the speakers, the Connecticut players – and manager Bill Meury – sprinted onto the field to lead the dancing.

It was a great moment, one of many Fairfield had in Cranston. In an e-mail after the tournament, Meury expressed his thanks and said tournament organizers were the reason his players had “one of the greatest summers of their lives.”

With a ticket punched to Williamsport, the summer of 2012 has been even better, a dream come true if there ever was one. Fairfield, you’ve got some friends in Rhode Island who hope you don’t wake up.

William Geoghegan is the sports editor of the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and williamg@rhodybeat.com.


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