Pittsfield American jumps all over Coventry, R.I. to advance to championship game of Little League New England Regional

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STEPHANIE ZOLLSHAN - THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE
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BRISTOL, Conn. — Once, not too long ago, playing for a New England Little League championship might have been a dream. For the members of the Pittsfield American All-Stars, that dream has turned to reality.

"I couldn't imagine it at first," Pittsfield's Evan Blake said, "but, I can't wait until Saturday."

Blake hit a moon-shot home run in the bottom of the fifth inning to complete a 3 for 3 day and put a major exclamation point on Pittsfield's 10-1 win over Coventry (R.I.) in the winner's bracket championship game Wednesday afternoon on Breen Field at the A. Bartlett Giamatti Little League Leadership Training Center.

Pittsfield scored three runs in the bottom of the first inning and never let off the gas. The Massachusetts state champions pounded out 10 earned runs on 10 hits against four Coventry pitchers.

Antonio Scalise helped break the game open by hitting a two-run home run off of reliever Logan Lama in the third inning, and then Blake capped it off with his home run that cleared the center field scoreboard and earned high fives by a couple of Coventry players.

"To be honest with you, I thought we were going to be in a dogfight," Pittsfield manager Joe Skutnik said during the post-game media availability. "I thought we prepared the kids well for what I thought we were going to see for pitching. They just came out and did a great job at the plate.

"Along with some outstanding defense, outstanding."

Lost a little in the 10-run, 2-homer explosion, was some stellar Pittsfield defense. Twice, center fielder Cam Sime ran down balls to make great grabs. More importantly, Pittsfield turned three double plays in the contest. Two of them were turned by second and short, and the third came when Coventry's Anthony Colucci flied to Sime, and the center fielder threw a strike to Tommy Mullin at first, getting pinch-runner Aiden Wilkins for the double play.

Those double plays helped pitcher Owen Salvatore go the distance.

Salvatore threw an efficient six innings. He gave up one run on seven hits and struck out six, including Will Owens for the final out of the game.

It was, however, that web gem double play in the first inning that truly set the tone in the game.

With one out, Coventry's Tommy Turner and Jake Mather hit back-to-back singles off of Salvatore. Turner came into the game hitting 4 for 5 in the tourney and Mather was 4 for 7.

Lama was the next hitter, and he had driven in 4 of his team's 20 runs and had two doubles to that point. But on a 1-1 pitch, he hit one into the hole at second. Pittsfield second baseman Nick Brindle made a great backhand grab, flipped to Blake at short, who threw to first and got Mather at first to complete the double play. Brindle was later the middle man at short in a sixth-inning double play.

"After we turned that double play, it gave me a boost to my confidence and it definitely gave our team a huge boost going into our first at-bat," said Salvatore.

Pittsfield American made it 3-0 after the double play. Brindle walked and Ben Jacob put down a bunt. Nobody covered at first so Jacob was on with a single. Blake followed with an RBI single to center, making it 1-0. Jacob took third on the throw in. After Blake stole second, Jacob scored on a Turner wild pitch before Scalise struck out. Mullin then put down a perfect squeeze bunt, plating Blake to make it 3-0.

"Knowing that I have runs behind me, it gave me a little more room to do my job and throw the ball," said the Pittsfield pitcher. [Three] runs and having our team hitting, I knew I just had to throw strikes and we'd be fine."

Not so fine was a Coventry team that had yet to play a complete game, beating Fairfield (Conn.) and South Burlington (Vt.) by the 10-run rule.

"We've been preaching pitching, defense and hitting. We didn't do any of the three today, and Pittsfield did a great job with all three," Coventry manager Lou Simon said. "You have to tip your cap to them."

Pittsfield flashed more leather in the second inning. Kody Fretts hit an opposite-field single to right to lead off the inning. Then, with one out, Anthony Colucci hit a sinking fly ball to center. After a long run, Sime made a basket catch and came up throwing. Pinch-runner Wilkins was caught off the bag and was doubled up as first baseman Mullin made the grab. Home plate umpire Frank Galli looked at the replay, and upheld the call.

"The first inning, the double play was kind of a killer. In the second inning, the double play was kind of a killer," said Simon. "Everything kind of snowballed early in the game."

After a scoreless second for Pittsfield, the snowball came rolling down the hill as the American All-Stars scored three runs on four hits, sending nine batters to the plate.

Blake, who scored four runs and batted two in, worked a walk. The next batter was Scalise, — whose two-run double in the bottom of the sixth inning helped Pittsfield advance to the New Englands — and he quickly got behind Lama 0-2. The Pittsfield catcher got all of the next pitch and it sailed over the fence in center, just to the left of the ESPN center-field camera location. It was 5-0.

"I knew I was going to have to protect the plate, and I was looking for a base hit," Scalise said. "I just got a good piece of it.

"I didn't think [it would go out], but it carried."

Brindle's RBI single in the third made it 6-0. Coventry got its run in the fifth on Lama's RBI double to left. Pittsfield answered right back with three runs on three hits. Mullin had the big hit, a two-run single to left, plating Blake and Scalise.

Blake's exclamation point home run was the blast heard 'round the world. It was the second pitch he saw from reliever Nolan LaPerche, and it was a no-doubter. The Ball went over the scoreboard in center, a board that might be 30 feet high. Center field Owens never even turned around, and Blake got some high fives from Coventry's Mather and LaPerche as he went around the bases.

"I think the team's been awesome," said Blake, evading a question about his 8-for-9 tournament as successfully as he launched that fifth-inning homer. "I thought from Day One we were going to make it real far."

The swing was spot on.

"Yes, that was perfect," he said of the swing, "I felt it right off the bat."

As to his home run, did he see where it went?

"He was told," Skutnik said with a smile. "He did not see where it went, which was good."

With the win, Skutnik and his players don't have to play until Saturday. Coventry, meanwhile, plays Friday against the winners of Thursday's game between Connecticut and New Hampshire.

To the winners go the spoils. In this case, it's that two-day break from competition.

"It would definitely be nice to have a little bit of a break, because we've been playing every day," Pittsfield's Scalise said. "I also think we need to stay in that groove that we've been in."

———

Coventry     000     100     —     1     7     1

Pittsfield     303     31x     —     10     10     0

Tommy Turner (1 1/3), Logan Lama (1 1/3), Will Owens (1 1/3), Nolan LaPerche (1) and Anthony Colucci. Owen Salvatore and Antonio Scalise, Evan Burke. W — Scalise. L — Turner. 2B — C (Lama). P (Salvatore, Blake). HR — P (Scalise, Blake).

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter and 413-496-6253.


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