|Defense, Homers Propel Pittsfield Little Leaguers to Regional Final|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Sports|
07:03PM / Wednesday, August 08, 2018
|The scoreboard beyond the 225-foot fence at Bristol, Conn.'s, Breen Field is estimated to be between 25 and 30 feet high. Pittsfield's Evan Blake hit the ball over it in Wednesday's win.|
BRISTOL, Conn. — As Major League Baseball used to tell us, chicks dig the long ball.
But coaches and pitchers? They dig defense.
The Pittsfield American Little League had plenty of both on Wednesday afternoon.
Antonio Scalise and Evan Blake each homered, and the Americans turned three double plays in a 10-1 win over Coventry, R.I., to advance to Saturday's title game of the Little League New England Regional Tournament.
Owen Salvatore struck out six in a complete game victory on the mound, an effort helped along by twin kills in the first, second and sixth innings.
"After they turned that double play [in the first], not only did it give me a big boost in my confidence, but it just gave our team a huge boost going to our first at-bat," Salvatore said.
The Americans used that boost to give Salvatore all the offensive support he needed, a three-run first-inning rally that featured an RBI single by Blake and a run-scoring sacrifice bunt by Tommy Mullin.
Mullin was involved in the first two double plays at first base.
In the first, he was on the receiving end of Blake's pivot throw after the shortstop took a toss from second baseman Nick Brindle that started the inning-ending play.
In the second, Mullin caught a throw from center fielder Cam Sime, who came in on a fly ball and fired to first to double off a runner and end that inning.
"The defense was outstanding," Salvatore said. "We had Cam, who was going to track down everything that was hit to him. We had Nick [Brindle], we had Ben [Jacob], we had Evan [Blake], everybody making their plays and doing their job to help me out."
The Rhode Island state champs, who mercy-ruled their first two opponents at the regional by scores of 10-0, could never get their offense going on Wednesday despite collecting seven hits.
"The first inning, the double play was kind of a killer," Rhode Island coach Lou Simon said. "The second inning, the double play was a killer. Everything kind of snowballed in the game. … We were never able to get ourselves back to where we were supposed to be.
"We did hit the ball, but everything that could go wrong did go wrong. … They played great defense. They had three double plays. I think they had three double plays. Three double plays in Little League baseball, that pretty much kills those seven hits. So hats off to them for making those plays and doing what they had to do to beat us out there today."
Pittsfield's offense, meanwhile, tacked on runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings.
Blake, who is hitting 8-for-9 with two homers in the tourney, drew a walk to open the third inning. And Scalise followed with a two-run blast to left field.
"The count was 0-2, so I knew I had to protect the plate," Scalise said. "I was just looking for a base hit, and I got a good piece of it. … I didn't think [it was a home run], but it carried."
With one out, Sime — who had two spectacular catches in the right-center gap to go with the double play — reached on an infield single. He moved up on Salvatore's double and eventually scored on an infield single by Brindle to make it 6-0.
Rhode Island got one run back in the top of the fourth, but Pittsfield rallied for three more in the bottom of the frame to put the game out of reach.
Blake got things started with a double down the left-field line and moved up on a wild pitch. Scalise walked and stole second to put two men in scoring position for Mullin, who delivered a two-run single.
Pittsfield then loaded the bases, but Mullin was erased attempting to score from third on a passed ball. Sime, who reached on a walk, ended up coming home on Ben Cornish's RBI groundout to make it 9-1.
In the bottom of the fifth, Blake crushed a 1-0 pitch over the scoreboard in center field.
Officials at Little League's Breen Field said they do not have an official height for the scoreboard — perhaps because they never thought anyone would clear it.
Veteran Little League coach Skutnik said it was tough to put the monstrous homer into true historical perspective.
"That's an unfair question," he said. "The bats have been dumbed down. We saw some long ones in the past. But with these new bats? The longest one I've seen."
Skutnik did get to see something for the first time on Wednesday after coaching at this level for two decades: his own team turn three double plays in a game.
The last one came in the sixth, another 4-6-3 DP, this time with Jacob at second, Brindle at short and Scalise at first.
"No," Skutnik said when asked if he'd ever seen that. "Two. But not three."