Pittsfield American 9-11s cling to 1-0 win over Pittsfield National at District 1 championship

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CAROLINE BONNIVIER SNYDER — THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE
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PITTSFIELD — Winning a championship takes trust, and that's what Pittsfield American manager Joe Skutnik has in his 9-11 Little League team.

Pittsfield American needed a lot of trust all throughout its roster to defeat city rival Pittsfield National in a 1-0, District 1 championship thriller on Myron Gray Field at Clapp Park on Sunday.

American scored the only run starting pitcher Konner Dugan would need in the top of the first inning.

Lead-off man Christian Barry dropped a single into shallow center field, and circled around to third when Skutnik put his trust in Kaden Boehm to get a bunt down.

Boehm tapped one right at the face of the plate and managed to beat the throw at first. With runners on second and third and one out, Robbie Bazinet made strong contact on a fly ball to center. Caesen Kendall handled the out, but Barry tagged up and scored without an attempt at the plate. Bazinet's RBI may have come just four batters into the game, but it was the only offense produced all afternoon.

"1-0, my hats off to the Americans. They have a great pitching staff over there, they're well-coached. I know they were sweating just as much as us," said National manager Jermaine Sistrunk, who had his team out early working out before the noon game. "1-0, that's an excellent baseball game no matter what level."

A one-run lead didn't seem safe at all, especially with National's lead-off hitter JJ Walker unleashing his speed and forcing an error to get him on first base in the bottom of the first. Quentin Christopher and Chase Cook both walked to load the bases, as Dugan took the first inning to find his rhythm.

With two outs and Walker just 60 feet from tying the game, American's defense was on high alert. Behind the plate, Barry had the corner of his eye trained on third base and his manager's vote of confidence in his back pocket. He threw down once to force Walker to retreat safely, and on Dugan's next pitch, he came up firing seamlessly once more. Walker was tagged out in the pickle, ending the threat.

"If he was off, Christian was told to go after him, absolutely," said Skutnik. "It's a lot of trust in him, and the third baseman, and the shortstop and left fielder, so it doesn't turn into a three-run disaster."

From there, Dugan settled in and tossed himself a gem. He struck out 12 in 5 and 2/3 innings, walking just one after that first frame. The only hit he allowed was a two-out single to Christopher in the third. Ryaland Luckadoo walked in the fourth with one out, and reached second base, but there he remained as Dugan reeled off back-to-back Ks.

Dugan hit his pitch limit while striking out National's No. 3 hitter in the bottom of the sixth inning. National's chances looked slim when reliever Cam Hillard took the hill with the bases empty and two down.

"We were hoping that Konnor could go as far as he could, and we got so lucky with getting those first two outs in the sixth inning. He pitched so well today," said Skutnik of his 11-year-old ace. "He just pounded the strike zone."

But Cook worked Hillard for a walk, and Luckadoo followed with a base hit through the left side of the infield. Hillard got Caio Lahey to ground to second, but Luckadoo was too quick reaching the bag before American's defense could track him down.

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With the bases loaded and the game on the line, Seth Aitken drew Hillard to a full count. Hillard trusted his stuff, though, and looped in a dangerous breaking ball for strike three.

"How about that for a Little League game," Skutnik said afterwards. "The Nationals played well, they made all the plays too. There wasn't much today, other than showing some grit. All of them. I'm proud of them."

National had a chance in the sixth thanks to a handful of impressive defensive plays that kept American from ever pushing across an all-important insurance run.

Barry doubled with one out in the third, but the catcher Aitken caught him stealing third for the inning's final out. Aitken then came up big again in the fifth.

American's Andrew Hammill smoked a pinch-hit double to right-center field, and his pinch runner was sacrificed to third. That ended the day for Christopher, who threw 4 and 1/3 innings of one-run ball, striking out three and walking none. Cook came on in relief and got got a strikeout, but threw a wild pitch that Aitken pounced on by the backstop. He fired to Cook covering, and the runner was tagged out at home, ending the inning.

"We had a great group of 11-year-old kids. Coming through house league, watching these guys grow and get better. It was awesome," said Sistrunk of his crew, whose season has ended. "You can't ask for much more out of these kids.

"I can't express how proud I am of these kids, the maturation they showed in some tough situations. I can't be prouder of my boys."

Pittsfield American continues its summer into sectionals, which will begin with a home game at Deming Park on July 13.

———

American     100     000     —     1     4     1

National     000     000     —     0     3     2

Konner Dugan (5 2/3), Cam Hillard (1/3) and Christian Barry. Quentin Christopher (4 1/3), Chase Cook (1 2/3) and Seth Aitken. W — Dugan. L — Christopher. 2B — A (Barry, Andrew Hammill).

Mike Walsh can be reached at mwalsh@berkshireeagle.com, at @CLNS_Walsh on Twitter and 413-496-6240.


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