TRUMBULL, Conn. — After scoring 57 runs in its first four games at the Babe Ruth New England Regional Championship, Pittsfield's 13-year-olds figured to have a whole other challenge in Tuesday morning's title game.
Facing a Waterford, Conn., team that allowed four runs total in its first four games, Pittsfield was going to need strong pitching to win the crown and claim a berth in next month's Babe Ruth World Series.
Cam Hillard and Connor Paronto were up to the task.
The pair combined to strike out eight and allowed four hits in seven innings to pitch Pittsfield to a 6-0 win at Trumbull High School.
"I usually come in with a lot of confidence," Hillard said of the assignment to start Tuesday's regional championship game. "And I never really lose it because I know my team can field the ball well. I've seen that in practice a lot."
Pittsfield committed just one error behind Hillard, who went four innings, and Paronto, who threw the last three.
The pair combined to strand 14 runners on base and protected a two-run lead most of the day until Pittsfield broke out for four in the top of the seventh.
"Definitely a lot of runners on base," Pittsfield 13s coach Ben Stohr said. "I think I got a little gray patch growing or something. Yeah, they've got great stuff.
"[Hillard] wasn't as efficient as he normally is and he has been up until this point. But we tried to tell him, 'Just trust your defense.' We practiced hard the last couple of weeks, two-a-days, putting them in situations, moving guys around into different positions. [Luke Ferguson] made a great play over at short, where it looked like it was slow developing, and they could have scratched a run there,
"They just have a lot of fight. They didn't give up."
After leaving a runner on base each of the first two innings, Pittsfield's finally got on the board in the top of the third.
The rally started when Goo Stannard reached on an error. He then scored the game's first run when Christian Barry launched an RBI triple to left-center.
Barry came home with one out on a ground ball out from Ed Ferris to make it a 2-0 game.
Waterford got runners to second and third with one out in the bottom of the frame, but Hillard got a fly ball to the infield and a called third strike to end that threat.
In the fourth, Waterford drew a leadoff walk, but Hillard struck out the next three hitters in order to end his day with 85 pitches and a two-run lead.
The Connecticut state champions loaded the bases in the fifth and the sixth against Paronto, but each time, he closed the door: in the fifth with a fly out in foul territory and in the sixth with a ground ball to Ferguson, who made the scoop and fired to first baseman Andrew Hammill in time to end the inning.
Pittsfield rode the momentum from that big play into the top of the seventh, when it loaded the bases with nobody out. First, John John Mullen was hit by a pitch, then Stannard reached on an infield single.
After a balk call moved each runner up a base, Barry was given an intentional base on balls to load the bases.
Waterford's Cole Peckham got the next batter swinging to bring up Ed Ferris.
Ferris then pounded a Peckham offering deep down the left field line, where it curled just foul to deny Ferris a grand slam.
"I was yelling, 'Tag!,' and then I saw the left fielder was giving up on it and I thought for a second maybe it was gonna get out," Stohr said.
Pittsfield's offense looked a little different on Wednesday without Morrie Fried or Jackson Almeida, who were in Georgia fulfilling a prior commitment to participate in a baseball showcase event.
But the depth in its batting order came through in the end.
"From Eddie [Ferris], Hammill, these guys kind of got moved up into a different spot in the lineup, and they didn't miss a beat," Stohr said.
With two out and the bases still loaded, Hammill delivered a two-run single to left field. He then stole second to put two men in scoring position, and Ferguson reached on an error that allowed both Barry and Hammill to score to make it 6-0.
Trumbull, which put runners on base in every inning, got a leadoff single in the bottom of the seventh. But the runner was erased on a fielder's choice off a ground ball to Ferguson at short.
After a hit batter and a passed ball put a pair of runners in scoring position, Paronto got the last two outs, ending the game on a comebacker to the mound.
When Hammill squeezed the ball at the bag at first, Pittsfield and its fans could begin making plans for a trip to Glen Allen, Va., for the World Series, scheduled for Aug. 10-20.
"We wanted these guys to believe because we saw it from the jump that the talent was there," Stohr said of the Western Massachusetts – and now New England – champions. "We had checklists. The first one was we wanted to, obviously, get through Westfield to earn the spot to get here. Then from there, it was, let's try to sweep pool play and earn that bye. And once we did, we said, 'Guys, we've got 14 innings to play our best baseball and accomplish our goal.
"I couldn't be any more proud of these guys, really. I mean, they're just an unbelievable group of kids."
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