Center of attention: Pittsfield American faces Coventry in Little League New England Regional championship
BRISTOL, Conn. — Nick Brindle didn't have to think twice when a reporter asked him what the last six days have been like.
"It's like a dream come true," the Pittsfield American infielder said. "I've always wanted to be here."
By nightfall, another dream of Brindle, and the rest of his Pittsfield teammates, could be reality if Pittsfield American is able to win the New England Little League championship.
Sometimes, the reality doesn't equal the dream. But after three straight wins and a week at the A. Bartlett Giamatti Little League Leadership Training Center, it has surpassed what anyone thought.
"I think it's been better," Ben Jacob said. "I honestly didn't think we were going to do this good, be in the championship 3-0 and have a shot at going to Williamsport.
"It's really fun."
To get to Williamsport, Pa., and the Little League World Series, Pittsfield American has one last task; beat Coventry, R.I., in Friday's elimination final. Coventry scored six runs in the bottom of the seventh and got a two-run single by Tommy Turner with two outs to plate the tying and winning runs in the elimination bracket final.
It will be a rematch of Pittsfield's last game in the tournament, a game the Berkshire County kids won 10-1.
"We never thought that we would be here," said Pittsfield American manager Joe Skutnik. "We thought we were going to be home working [Friday].
"To be able to say that we went down to Bristol and stayed until the last possible day is something we never thought would happen."
The Pittsfield Americans have taken their city, and perhaps even Berkshire County, by storm. The Beacon Cinema will show the New England championship game Saturday at 1 p.m., and the free tickets are first-come, first-serve, and will be handed out starting at noon.
In addition, Pittsfield city officials have announced that a fan bus will be provided. One, or possibly two, buses will depart from Wahconah Park at 10:30 Saturday morning. Each bus will seat about 50.
For the players, it's about practicing and playing each game hard. But baseball is not a 24-7 occupation for these 11-13 year olds.
"We hung out with [players from] Maine when they were here," said Jacob, "and we talked to Maryland a little bit."
As far as the team and the game is concerned, Skutnik said that everything that was on his checklist has happened.
"It went right to plan," he said. "We were going to throw Evan [Blake], then Cameron [Sime] and then Owen [Salvatore], and each one of those guys, every time we've thrown them, have thrown really well — from districts on.
"That's been a luxury to have them throw as well as they've been throwing."
That being the case, only Salvatore will be ineligible to pitch on Saturday. Blake, who has been torrid at the plate and solid on the mound, will get the start.
The right-hander pitched against Goffstown in the regional opener. He gave up no runs on four hits and two walks, striking out 10. In his last 11 2/3 innings, dating back to the state championship game, Blake has only given up one earned run.
Skutnik said this is the best staff he's had in All-Star play.
"What we haven't had [in the past] is the three solid pitchers that we have," said Skutnik, "along with Antonio [Scalise], who's just as good. Then, Roshan [Warriar] and Cam Zerbato. I wouldn't have a problem throwing any one of those guys out there."
Sime got the win in the 9-4 victory over Saco, Maine. He gave up four runs, but only one was earned. He scattered six hits and a walk, striking out four.
Leadoff hitter Brindle, batting .444, has reached base nine times, has scored three runs and has a run batted in. He and Jacob are table setters for Blake, catcher Scalise and farther down in the order, Salvatore.
Blake is hitting .889 in the New England tournament, going 8 for 9. Of his eight hits, six of them (four doubles and two home runs) have been for extra bases. Sime, the No. 6 hitter and a de facto second leadoff hitter, is hitting .333 while Salvatore is batting .667.
Coventry manager Lou Simon was asked about his biggest concern when it comes to Pittsfield American.
"Their hitting, and their pitching," he said. "[Blake] had a pretty good shot, and that kid's on fire. I don't think he's made an out in the entire tournament. We have to make sure we pitch carefully to him. The rest of their lineup have very good hitters, and they're very good at doing their jobs.
"It's a very disciplined, well-coached team."
Skutnik said he thought his team is right where it needs to be, but it can still improve.
"It's playing as well as it can right now. There's a little bit more room to do better at the plate, I think," the manager said. "Defensively, I think they're spot on."
The defense and pitching, and the hitting, will all need to be "spot on" because Pittsfield will face a Coventry squad coming in on a real high.
The six-run rally in the bottom of the sixth inning on Friday propelled Coventry into the title game. It may also have erased some of the bad taste from Wednesday's winner's bracket final. In that game, Pittsfield rolled to a 10-1 win. Scalise hit a two-run home run in a three-run third inning against Coventry reliever Logan Lama to break open the game. It was also the game where Blake cleared the scoreboard in center field with a majestic home run.
Who pitches if Lama runs into trouble is a question. Tommy Turner, who pitched in Coventry's opener and was the starter against Pittsfield, threw 43 pitches on Friday. Jake Mather, who started in the win over Vermont, threw 78 pitches on Friday and also cannot pitch.
"The bats are going to have to come alive," Simon said of the rematch. "I know they have their ace ready to go. We have Ace No. 3 [Lama] over here ready to go. We'll battle, and hopefully we take some momentum and ride it into tomorrow."
The Pittsfield American All-Stars have had two days to practice and to ruminate about the task that lies ahead. Nick Brindle says they'll be ready.
"This game means a lot," said Brindle. "All of us have been thinking about Williamsport. We're in the championship to go there.
"We've got to play our heart out."
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter and 413-496-6253.
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