PAWTUCKET – Prior to Darlington American's R.I. Little League District II All-Star Major Division (11-12) Tournament opener against Warren on rainy Wednesday, manager Kevin Andella struggled with whom to start on the hill: Co-aces Seth Watson or Chris Pierce.
He chose Watson, and it proved to be an outstanding move. The right-hander baffled the Warren lineup, hurling 3 1/3 innings of no-hit, nine-strikeout ball as DALL captured a satisfying 7-2 victory.
With Pierce slated to start against Barrington in a winner's bracket preliminary tilt at Slater Park's Cosimini Field on Friday night, Andella believed he'd pick up where he left off during the regular season.
No one was more surprised than the head coach when Pierce hit four batters in the first frame alone, helping Barrington stake a 5-0 cushion, and the defending District II champs used that cushion to dispose of Darlington American, 9-4.
“That kid has been lights out all year for me,” Andella stated after perhaps a five-minute chat with his squad in right field. “He's a returning All-Star; he pitched for us (Manning-Heffern Funeral Home) and led us to the league championship. I think he just felt the pressure.
“I think the name 'Barrington' got to our kids,” he added, referring to the fact the same opponent had defeated Darlington in the district title tilt a year ago. “We've got three returning players from (the 2012) team, and I think they remembered what happened. It was all nerves. Never in a million years did I expect Chris to have the kind of inning he had, but that's Little League baseball.”
With the defeat, Andella's bunch fell into the losers' bracket, and now will prepare to travel to Portsmouth, which suffered a 6-4 first-game defeat to Barrington on Wednesday, for a 5:45 p.m. contest on Sunday.
Actually, it looked as if DALL would assemble a rally in the top of the first (it had lost the coin flip) when starting southpaw Tucker Flint walked leadoff batter James Colman, then struck Jeremy Knox with an offering. Both moved up on a passed ball, though Flint whiffed Pierce for the initial out.
Clean-up batter Izaiah Lopez also struck out, but – when catcher Max Blane returned the throw to Flint – Colman broke for home on a delayed steal. Flint immediately returned a toss and got Colman sliding into the dish for the twin killing that ended the inning.
In the back half, Pierce hit Flint on his third offering, then walked Deven Connors before striking George Connolly to load the bags. He also hit Gavin Ridgell, plating Flint. With the bases still jammed, Blane's fielder's choice scored Connors.
Andrew D'Adamo then reached on an infield error, and – when shortstop Watson threw to the plate to cut down Ridgell's courtesy runner, Matt Culligan – it sailed over backstop Knox's head. Pierce retired Bo Vanier on a fly to center, but Sam Baldwin lifted another fly to short left, one that went for a two-run double, and Barrington had collected a 5-0 advantage.
Pierce hit his fourth and last batter, Drew Dillon, and Andella immediately replaced him with reliever Lopez. Flint, the 10th hitter in the frame, bounced to Pierce at first to bring the flurry to a halt.
While Darlington's offense couldn't provide any real test to Flint, Barrington manufactured another run in the second. The leadoff Connors raced to first on a dropped liner, stole second and tagged to third on Ridgell's fly to center.
Andella, who believed Connors had left second base before the catch, asked Lopez to throw to the bag for the umpires' appeal call; when the pitcher did, Connors hustled in on the delayed steal.
(The umps immediately told Andella and his assistants that an appeal play occurs with the ball “live,” and Connors had every right to the attempt to score).
Things didn't get any better for the Pawtucketers in the third. D'Adamo sprinted to second after a dropped fly in right field, then took third on a wild pitch. Lopez fanned Jack DeLuca, but Baldwin drilled a shot over the right-field fence (perhaps 220 feet) for a two-run dinger.
Lopez managed the second out with another whiff, but Flint walloped a full-count fastball to virtually the same spot as Baldwin, and that gave Barrington a 9-0 cushion.
Flint had allowed the hosts only two batters over the minimum through the first three frames, and hadn't allowed a hit after managing two quick outs in the fourth. That, however, is when Darlington sprung to life.
Watson crushed a double to deep left, and Justin Klemanchuck drove him in with an opposite-field single to right. Trey Turgeon then walked, and the Barrington coaching staff opted for the righty Baldwin to bail it out.
Baldwin issued a walk to Trey Turgeon to load the bags, and did the same to pinch-hitter Ryan Sutherland, one that pushed across Klemanchuck. Colman responded with a ripped, ground double down the right-field line to plate both Turgeon and Andella, though the surge stopped there.
Still, DALL had sliced the deficit to 9-4.
Barrington had runners on the corners with two outs in the fourth when the elder Andella brought in Knox to close the deal, but he allowed Vanier a hit to center, one that loaded them once more.
Knox nevertheless whiffed Baldwin on a breaker to get out of the inning unscathed.
With one out in the fifth, Lopez whacked a two-bagger off the left-field fence, and Watson drew a walk, but Baldwin struck out Klemanchuck and Turgeon. He also whiffed the first two batters in the seventh before forcing Colman into a high-hopper that ended it.
All told, Flint lasted 3 2/3, allowing just two hits but three runs (all earned) and three walks while fanning seven. Baldwin, who helped himself at the plate (2-for-3, four RBI, run scored), went the final 2 1/3, yielding a pair of two-baggers and three walks with four strikeouts.
For Pierce and Lopez, they surrendered only four hits and four earned runs in their stints, though Knox
scattered just one hit and whiffed a pair. Colman finished 1-for-3 with two RBI, and Lopez and Klemanchuck both went 1-for-3 with an RBI.
“I kept thinking Chris was going to turn it around; once he hit the fourth batter (in the first), I thought, 'That's it, the nerves are getting to him,'” Coach Andella stated. “The HBPs and the errors hurt us. Those are plays we make all the time. If we re-do that first inning, we'd have been right there with them.
“Chris is that good; that's why I'm stunned,” he continued. “Still, I know him; he's a great, tough kid, and I know he'll rebound. He's always money. To our credit, we fought back tough. We just ran out of innings.”
Darlington American 000 400 – 4 – 4 – 4
Barrington 513 00x – 9 – 5 – 1
Chris Pierce, Izaiah Lopez (2), Jeremy Knox (4) and Knox, Justin Klemanchuck. Tucker Flint, Sam Baldwin (4) and Max Blane, Drew Dillon (2). 2B – Seth Watson, Lopez, Baldwin. HR – Baldwin, Flint.