Pittsfield's pitching carries 13s to Babe Ruth World Series win
WESTFIELD — The Babe Ruth World Series began Thursday morning as the best 13-year-olds were welcomed to Bullens Field in Westfield. The first of four games on day one of the tournament pitted the Pittsfield 13s against Centre County, Pa., and the pitching dual alone was worth the price of the day's admission.
Evan Blake and Brayden Gutzmer, along with a trio of Centre pitchers combined to leave 18 runners on base, but it was Pittsfield that did just enough to edge out a 2-0 victory.
"I was happy with our first outing," Pittsfield coach Paul Brindle said. "They are grasping that every game is going to be close down here. You're not going to ten-run rule a team in the World Series. You have to grind it out and every play matters."
With the help of some outstanding defense on both sides, the game remained scoreless until the top of the sixth inning. It was looking like Centre's Tyler Serb was on his way to a one-two-three frame after retiring the inning's first two outs. However, Pittsfield's Antonio Scalise dropped a duck into left field that landed just out of reach of Centre's shortstop and left fielder. After Pittsfield's fourth hit of the ballgame, Owen Salvatore stepped into the box and slapped the first pitch he saw into left field, scoring Ben Jacob, who was pinch-running for Scalise.
"I told them that's baseball," Brindle said. "You can hit the ball hard but they were playing great defense. All of a sudden you get a little bloop that can decide the game. You have to grind it out and every play matters. These guys get that."
"We weren't making the plays and were looking for that hit to really get us going," Salvatore said. "Coach told me to put the ball in play so that is what I was focused on."
After two walks in the top of the seventh inning, Pittsfield added an insurance run with some more two-out magic and the bat of Nick Brindle, who was 2 for 3 on the afternoon and reached base three times. His single to left field plated Tommy Mullin, who found himself in scoring position after stealing second base.
While the Pittsfield bats won the game, it was Blake and Gutzmer who kept it tight.
"Evan is our No. 1 and probably one of the best pitchers in this tournament," Paul Brindle said. "Most of these kids have been in huge games as 11- and 12-year-olds. It is pretty impressive for young kids to have so many big games in their life that I think it helps. Evan knows he has to pound the zone and if they put it in play, know his guys will make [the play]."
Blake found himself in his first jam in the first inning, as Centre had runners at first and second with just one out. After a fly-out to left for the inning's second out, Blake recorded his second strikeout on just three pitches to retire the side. The key to Blake's success started with the first pitch of every at bat. In his five and two-thirds innings of work, Blake recorded 10 outs, five of which were strikeouts, and just two hits when throwing a first-pitch strike.
"It is the most important pitch," Blake explained. "You have to get that first pitch because it gets you that much more stoked."
"He kept getting ahead in the count, which we stress," Paul Brindle added.
The center-field fence at Bullens Field is 386 feet and Blake started the top of the fourth inning by taking his best shot at it. While the ball didn't reach the fence, it found a massive gap in deep left-center field for a lead-off triple to start the frame. Centre's Braedyn Kormanic didn't crumble under pressure, as he struck out the next two batters he faced before Kahale Burns made an impressive play from deep at shortstop and fired to first to keep the run off the board.
Kaden Burns was Centre's first batter to reach third in the bottom of the frame with one out. Blake recorded his sixth of eight strikeouts of the game for the second out of the inning.
"We always think it is a 0-0 game." Blake said. " No matter what inning it is and what the score is, we just try our best."
Blake remained composed as he drifted off the mound to catch a can of corn pop-up to end the threat.
Gutzmer took the mound in the bottom of the sixth inning and closed out the game for Pittsfield. He struck out two and retired four of the five batters he faced, however, the game's final out could've been trouble.
With a runner at first base, Kahale Burns drilled a ball down the third-base line and Damon Pause bounced into action just in time to stop the ball dead in its tracks before firing to first to close out the game.
Pittsfield improved to 1-0 in pool play with the win, but according to the players, the game meant much much more.
"We got all of our nerves out," Blake said.
"This was the nerve game," Salvatore said. "Hopefully we'll come back Saturday and play a lot better."
Pittsfield has an opportunity to sit back and relax ahead the game, as they have Friday off before facing the Pacific Southwest Regional champs. A handful of kids on Hawaii Kai, Hawaii, the Southwest Regional representative, were also members of the 2018 Little League World Series Champion team from Honolulu. First pitch between Hawaii Kai and Pittsfield is scheduled for 4 p.m.
Pittsfield 000 001 1 — 2 6 0
Centre County 000 000 0 — 0 7 0
Evan Blake (5 2/3), Brayden Gutzmer (1 1/3) and Antonio Scalise. Braedyn Kormanic (4 1/3), Tyler Serb (2), Kahale Burns (2/3) and Kaden Burns. W — Blake. L — Serb. 2B — P 2 (Scalise, Owen Salvatore). 3B — P 1 (Blake).
Jake Mendel can be reached at Jmendel@berkshireeagle.com, @Jmendel94 on Twitter and 413-496-6252.
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