Time to rest: Pittsfield American Little League All-Stars get 2 days off before New England Regional final
BRISTOL, Conn. — The Pittsfield American Little League All-Stars have a little break before playing in the New England Regional Championship on Saturday. Two days is just enough.
"If you have too much time off, you tend to be a little lackadaisical playing," Pittsfield's Owen Salvatore said. "I think two days off will be good, because we have more time to rest and prepare for the upcoming game."
If Pittsfield American wins the "upcoming game," it will be on its way to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., and would be the first Pittsfield team to ever get there.
In fact, by playing in Saturday's championship game, Pittsfield American has gone farther than any Pittsfield team has gone in the regional tournament.
Pittsfield American is the first Massachusetts team to reach the New England championship game since Andover National emerged from pool play and the semifinals in 2011. Andover beat Goffstown, N.H., in the semifinal round, but dropped a 13-7 decision to Cumberland (R.I.).
A win on Saturday would send a Massachusetts team to Williamsport for the first time since Peabody Western beat Lincoln (R.I.) 11-7 in the New England title game.
The last time a Pittsfield team had gone this far was in 2001, when Pittsfield South went 2-2 in pool play, and lost to eventual champion Lincoln 5-4, in seven innings, in the semifinals. The 2001 season was the first year of the New England Regional
In 2000, Pittsfield South reached the quarterfinal round of the Eastern Regional, losing to Lyme, Conn., 6-1. That was the last season of the Mid-Atlantic and New England champion playing each other for the right to represent the East in the World Series.
Pittsfield will see either Coventry, R.I., or Goffstown, N.H., in Saturday's championship game. Goffstown kept its hopes alive with a 9-3 win over Fairfield (Conn.) American Thursday afternoon. The Elimination Bracket final is Friday at 1 p.m.
Pittsfield had beaten Goffstown, N.H., 4-2 in the opening game, and Goffstown came back to beat South Burlington, Vt. 13-0.
While the Little League world was talking about the moonshot home run Evan Blake hit in the fifth inning of the 10-1 win over Coventry on Wednesday, Pittsfield American hasn't just been about power hitting.
Pittsfield has gone 3-0 because of hitting, pitching and defense. Manager Joe Skutnik's team has played big ball and played small ball.
While it wasn't successful, Pittsfield made a case for small ball in the 9-4 win over Saco back on Monday.
Pittsfield scored two runs in the top of the first on Monday and could have had more. But with one out, Cam Sime grounded to first base for an out. Blake tried scoring from third and was thrown out for the double play. Something similar happened in the second inning when Salvatore hit a leadoff double, was sacrificed to third, and tried to score on a grounder by Walker Abdallah. It was a close play at home, but Salvatore was doubled up.
"You want to put the pressure on them as much as you can," Skutnik said on Monday.
Pittsfield put the pressure on Coventry in the first inning. After Nick Brindle walked, Ben Jacob dropped a sacrifice bunt attempt down. Nobody covered first and Jacob had a base hit. Three batters later, with Blake on third, Tommy Mullin put down a perfect squeeze bunt. He was out at first but Blake had scored. Had Pittsfield not executed that play well, Blake might have been out at home.
Pittsfield American has pounded out 23 hits in three games. But going into the Coventry game, the heart of Pittsfield's batting order — Blake, Antonio Scalise and Mullin — had been a combined 6 for 19. Blake had five of those hits, while Scalise had been 1 for 7. He was 8 for 15 in the state tournament.
But when Scalise launched an 0-2 pitch over the fence for a two-run home run, the catcher said he thought that his skid was ending.
"I've been in a little bit of a slump lately, and haven't been doing very well," Scalise said. "I think that got me going."
While Scalise was 1 for 2 against Coventry, he reached base three times and scored two runs.
Teams can't win a regional without good pitching and so far, Pittsfield American has received that pitching.
Skutnik and coaches Ty Perrault and Pat Bramer have not had to make any pitching changes on the fly. Blake threw five innings on Sunday, Cam Sime went 4 2/3 on Monday and Salvatore went the distance on Wednesday. That means with Blake scheduled to start, only Salvatore won't be able to pitch.
But if Blake and company do what Salvatore did on Wednesday, Pittsfield could be in good shape.
"We were looking for Owen to hit his spots," Skutnik said. "If he could do that, and pitch to contact. We weren't looking for Owen to blow them away or anything.
"Pitch to contact, make the plays behind him, and we've been doing that since we've been down here."
The Pittsfield left-hander smiled when asked about his defense after Wednesday's game.
"Our defense was outstanding. We had Cam [Sime], who was going to track down everything in the outfield that was hit to him," said Salvatore. "We had Nick [Brindle], we had Ben [Jacob], we had Evan [Blake] at times. We had everybody making their plays and doing their job to help me out."
They'll just have to do it one more time.
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, at @howardherman on Twitter or 413-496-6253.
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