Pittsfield American 12s beat Worcester Joe Schwartz to win Section 1 Little League title
WORCESTER — The members of the Pittsfield American Little League All-Stars are going to get used to riding the Massachusetts Turnpike this week. That, however, is a very good thing.
Pittsfield American clinched the Massachusetts Little League Section 1 championship Monday night, beating Worcester Joe Schwartz 8-1. Pittsfield moves on to the state championship in Millbury this weekend, while Worcester's season is over.
"It's a special moment for all of us," said Pittsfield catcher Antonio Scalise, who had two hits, a run scored and a run batted in. "It's our last year in Little League, and we want to make it as far as we can."
Pittsfield American will play Section 2 champion Westborough in the second game of a Thursday doubleheader. The teams will all compete until two are left standing, and those teams will play Sunday at 2 p.m.
"It means a lot to me" to hold the banner, said pitcher Evan Blake, who held the Worcester side to only two hits and took a no-hitter into the fifth inning. "It means a lot to my heart especially."
Pittsfield, the designated home team after a coin flip, took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the fifth inning. Manager Joe Skutnik's crew then put six runs on the board on five hits, sending 10 batters to the plate. Owen Salvatore, who went 2 for 3, had a big RBI double that one-hopped the wall in right.
Blake gave up a run in Pittsfield's 7-4 win back at Deming Park last Thursday, surrendering four hits while striking out eight. On that day, he went 3 1/3 innings. This time, the lanky right-hander went the distance.
"I wanted to finish," he said. "I wanted to get it over with. My nerves were up a little bit, but I was just happy I got it over with."
Blake finished the night, giving up two hits and two walks, while striking out 11 Worcester hitters. Blake lost his no-hitter when pinch-hitter Kevin O'Dea hit a leadoff single in the fifth inning. He took third on an unusual sacrifice bunt play, but Blake struck out the side. Manny Mahoney dropped the bunt down the first base line, and backup first baseman Anthony Frieri fielded it and tagged the batter out. There was a little confusion on the play, with O'Dea ending up at third. He scored on a wild pitch. It was the only run to cross the plate for Worcester.
Then in the sixth, Jack McGrath singled with one out. Thomas Papani flied out to Ben Jacob in left field, and then Owen Cooney grounded to short. Cam Sime fielded the ball and tagged the base before McGrath got there, setting off quite the celebration.
"[Blake's] slider was working great. His change up, his fastball was working and his curve ball," said Scalise, Pittsfield American's catcher. "His cutter was working. It was all looking good."
It also looked good from the Pittsfield dugout.
"The whole goal was get strike one in there," Skutnik said. "He hit his corners well today, and that was the difference today. He got through the whole game with his 85 pitches. He has not done that at all this year."
Early on, it looked like Pittsfield American was going to make short work of Worcester Joe Schwartz. Pittsfield had runners in scoring position in each of the first three innings, but only managed to put two on the board in the second inning. Pittsfield sent eight runners to the plate, got an RBI when Walker Abdallah reached on an error and Nick Brindle singled inside the bag at third for another RBI. Abdallah got the RBI because the run would have counted even if he had been out.
But Pittsfield left the bases loaded and then left runners on second and third in the third inning. Over the first three frames, leaving six on base is not a good sign.
"I was a little concerned," Skutnik said. "With Evan on the mound, I felt the game would still be close. I didn't think they'd have an explosion against him. Maybe they were going to eke one out here or there. With him on the mound, I felt we would eventually get one or two" runs.
Pittsfield American got six, and it all started when Blake led off the fifth with a single. He was wild pitched to second and scored on Scalise's RBI single. By the time the smoke had cleared, Pittsfield had scored six runs on five hits. one of them came when Abdallah grounded to short and shortstop McGrath flipped the ball to second. Unfortunately for him, the runner that was on first had moved to second before the play.
Those kind of mistakes haunted the Worcester American side the whole game.
"We didn't have our 'A' Game," Worcester manager Rich White said. "[Blake] is a good pitcher if he's throwing hard or if he's not. We just did not hit today, that was the bottom line.
"Today, they said they were ready, and they just came out flat and never got the momentum."
Pittsfield, however, held the momentum, won the game and took home the Section 1 banner for the second time in three years. Now, Pittsfield American will seek to win a state title for the first time since Pittsfield South went back-to-back in 2000 and 2001.
"With this group of kids, we kind of thought that we may have a chance" to get back to the state championship, said Skutnik, who was a coach for Ty Perrault two years ago. "It wasn't easy, it definitely wasn't easy. Schwartz made it hard.
"I'm just so proud of them."
Worcester 000 010 — 1 2 4
Pittsfield 020 06x — 8 9 2
Jake LaFrancois (3 1/3), Aiden Murphy (1 2/3) and Tyson Scanlon, Pat Cappabianca. Evan Blake and Antonio Scalise. W — Blake. L — LaFrancois. 2B — P (Owen Salvatore).
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter and 413-496-6253.
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