PAWTUCKET -- Almost simultaneously, co-managers Matt Bergeron and Luke McLaughlin leaned back in their office chairs rather amused when asked the question, ‚ÄúHow the heck did you do it?!‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre still trying to figure that out!‚ÄĚ Bergeron exclaimed of the miraculous, comeback 13-12 victory recorded by the Boys & Girls Club of Pawtucket RBI Junior Division All-Stars over the Jersey City, N.J./Jackie Robinson Mets in Queens, N.Y. back on Saturday, July 13.
In the bottom of the seventh (and final) inning of the title clash of the RBI Northeast Regional Tournament, the group of 13-15 year olds trailed its aforementioned foe, 12-6, before it manufactured a flurry for the ages.
The tandem both laughed and grimaced while describing the frame.
‚ÄúDylan Boisclair reached on an error to start it, and Ricky Bourdeau got a hit before Rich Souza singled again to load the bases,‚ÄĚ Bergeron explained. ‚ÄúBrett Gaudreau walked to score Boisclair, and ‚Äď after a strikeout ‚Äď Steve Otis had an RBI single to make it 12-8.
‚ÄúDavid Mejia then ripped a two-run single to right, and ‚Äď with Mejia at first and Otis on second ‚Äď Nate Gagnon had a 2-1 count,‚ÄĚ he added. ‚ÄúWhat happened next blew our minds; he hit a three-run, walk-off homer over the wall in right-center, and we couldn‚Äôt believe it! The kids went ballistic.‚ÄĚ
With the astonishing triumph, the ‚ÄúPawSox‚ÄĚ ‚Äď aptly named in honor of their sponsors ‚Äď clinched a bid to the RBI Junior Division World Series, one slated to begin in Minneapolis on Aug. 4.
‚ÄúI was miked up the whole game, so I‚Äôm sure nobody could understand what was coming out of my mouth,‚ÄĚ Bergeron chuckled recently. ‚ÄúWe were supposed to play the final at Citi Field (home of the New York Mets, not to mention the Major League Baseball All-Star Game), but it had rained, so they switched it.
‚ÄúBefore the inning, we corralled the guys and said, ‚ÄėThis is a true test of your being a man; that is, when you‚Äôre knocked down, how do you respond to it? If you stay together and fight to the end, good things will happen.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
It may sound almost biblical, but they did.
‚ÄúIt was a spur of the moment kind of thing, but they responded ‚Äď just like we hoped they would,‚ÄĚ McLaughlin offered. ‚ÄúEveryone was in a state of shock. The kids were the most excited. We (as coaches) weren‚Äôt even sure if we had won the game because the Mets just stood at their positions, frozen. I think they were in shock, too.
‚ÄúA lot of the people down the first-base line kept telling me that, despite the score (trailing 12-6), ‚ÄėCoach, you got this!‚Äô and I was thinking, ‚ÄėAre you guys nuts?‚Äô‚ÄĚ he continued. ‚ÄúWe were down six in the bottom of the seventh, and we had one hit the previous three. I was like, ‚ÄėAre you people crazy?‚Äô
‚ÄúAfter the game, a lot of the fans were saying, ‚ÄėWe told you so.‚Äô I just said, ‚ÄėI‚Äôm glad you guys were thinking it, because I thought, ‚ÄėThere‚Äôs no way in hell.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
What made the final so astonishing was this: The All-Stars had sailed to four straight blowout wins by a combined score of 57-1. They at first crushed Boston, 11-1, then ripped Providence (21-0) on July 11. The following day, they mustered cakewalks over Harlem (10-0) and Greater New York Sandlot (15-0) to set up their date with destiny.
The Pawtucketers now are preparing for the trip to Minnesota, one in which they‚Äôll leave on Aug. 3. The last time this squad trekked to the RBI World Series, it dropped a 13-3 championship-game decision to Detroit inside Angels Stadium, the home of the American League‚Äôs Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
They finished as the national runner-ups.
‚ÄúOur program had fallen on hard times (after that tourney),‚ÄĚ Bergeron noted. ‚ÄúWe had gone to regionals each year but lost our first game each year. You do that, and you‚Äôre out of contention.
‚ÄúThe good news this year is we have a lot of kids who have played at the (high school) varsity level,‚ÄĚ he added. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôve played in big games, so they didn‚Äôt rattle.‚ÄĚ
Mentioned McLaughlin: ‚ÄúAlso, most of these kids have played in the Junior RBI League, so they didn‚Äôt have to spend a lot of time getting to know each other. They knew each other‚Äôs tendencies, how they played.
‚ÄúThey‚Äôve played here after school when they were younger, and they played sandlot ball together; in high school, they played with or against each other. Obviously, that experience helped us.‚ÄĚ
The team is comprised of the best 14 players from the six RBI Junior League teams. Among the members, 10 hail from Pawtucket, including Boisclair (St. Raphael), Bourdeau (Tolman), Ryan Depatie (Davies Tech), Gagnon (Tolman), Gaudreau (Tolman), Lopez (Tolman), Mejia (Shea), Jeremy Medina (Tolman), Otis (Tolman) and Souza (Wheeler). The four others are Jonathan Vadnais of Cumberland, John Costa of East Providence, Jordan Gibson of Rumford (East Providence High) and Ryan McGahern of Attleboro (Bishop Feehan).
‚ÄúThe thing about these guys, they‚Äôre so committed,‚ÄĚ Bergeron said. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôre willing to listen, and they learn from what we tell them. They come ready to work hard every day. They‚Äôre a very coachable group.‚ÄĚ
Noted McLaughlin: ‚ÄúI think now they believe that no matter what the score is, they can come back and win; I believe they‚Äôre confidence soared after that game. No lead or deficit is too great to overcome. They know great things are possible because they‚Äôve done it before on a huge stage.
‚ÄúTheir experience level is outstanding,‚ÄĚ he continued. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôre still 13, 14 and 15 years old, but their baseball maturity is comparable to high school upperclassmen. They act like they‚Äôve been there before. Then again, a lot of them have been.‚ÄĚ
The Pawtucket RBI club has a deep pitching staff, led by righties Souza (who went 2-0 in the Northeast Regional tourney), Mejia (1-0) and Otis (1-0), and lone southpaw Depatie (1-0).
‚ÄúNow we‚Äôre going to nationals, and we need to win six straight games to win the title,‚ÄĚ claimed Bergeron, the Boys & Girls Club‚Äôs Athletic Director for 10 years now. ‚ÄúI actually coached that team in 2006, the one that went to Nationals; it was my first year.
‚ÄúThese guys I think can go a long way, and it‚Äôs because they care about the game and each other.‚ÄĚ
Should they win their first five contests, the PawSox will play in the national championship game at Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins.
‚ÄúIn all the years I‚Äôve been playing or coaching in high school or in college, no matter what the sport, that was the most amazing, exciting, incredible comeback I‚Äôve ever been a part of,‚ÄĚ Bergeron explained of the win over Jersey City/Jackie Robinson. ‚ÄúNo one who was there will ever forget it. I know I won‚Äôt, and I know the kids won‚Äôt, either.
‚ÄúYou know what Luke compared it to? The Red Sox-Yankees (American League) championship series in ‚Äô04. When he told me that, I just laughed. The more I think about it, he‚Äôs right.‚ÄĚ