SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - They were down. And they were tense.

Fairfield American’s season was three innings from being over. Walla Walla, Wash., had scored twice in the second and three more times in the third and as Fairfield came to bat in the bottom of the fourth, they were staring at a three-run deficit.

“We weren’t playing too well in the second and third innings and things got a little tense in the dugout, so I had to call the boys in and say ‘relax, we got plenty of game left,’ “ Fairfield American manager Mike Randazzo said. “and we came out on fire.”

What happened next? Fairfield American put together a comeback for the ages, sending 13 men to the plate, scoring eight runs on six hits and taking advantage of a couple of Walla Walla errors, turned a three-run hole into a five-run lead en-route to a 14-6 win in the Little League World Series that advanced Fairfield into tonight’s loser’s bracket semifinal against Jackson, N.J., a team that Fairfield defeated 7-6 in its opening game last Thursday.

Walla Walla had taken a 2-0 lead in the second inning, only to see Fairfield rally and tie the game on a two-run single from Owen Kalagher. But Washington came back with three runs in the third as starter Tyler Bauer struggled to find his control. A hit batsman and three singles totaled three runs and Fairfield was staring at a 5-2 deficit.

“We kind of knew that it might be a slugfest,” Walla Walla manager Charlie Thompson said. “We were both on our 3, 4 and 5 pitchers. I told the kids that it could be a 13-12 ballgame. They had that big fourth inning and when you give a team, six, seven outs in an inning, it costs you at this stage. They hit the ball, they put the ball in play and they made plays and they took advantage of our mistakes.”

All season long, Fairfield has lived by its ‘Never Say Die’ motto and that proved to be the determining factor in its comeback victory. Four straight pinch hitters - Sean O’Neil, Anthony Falletta, Christian Smith and Griffin Dodder - started a rally that kept Fairfield’s season alive.

“This boy (Smith) launched a missile to tie the game in a huge spot and he was aggressive at the plate and first pitch and drove it out of the park and it was contagious,” Randazzo said. “We started hitting balls hard and kept on hitting and we were aggressive on the bases and here we are, eight runs in the fourth.”

The first pinch-hitter, O’Neil, lined a double to right center and Falletta, the next pinch-hitter, popped a single to right to put runners at the corners. Smith, the third straight pinch-hitter, took the first pitch he saw and crushed it into the center field bushes, tying the game at 5-5.

“Just a season saving home run,” Smith said.

Season saving, indeed.

“I was thinking, ‘be aggressive’ and try to drive them in,” Smith said. “I was just thinking get a base hit, get a run in to get us closer but I got a good first pitch and I swung and hit it out.”

Next, Dodder hammered a ball that the Walla Walla third baseman couldn’t handle for a two-base error. Dodder scored on Ethan Righter’s double and Righter scored on Michael Iannazzo’s single and just like that, Fairfield had taken an 8-5 lead.

“Look at the box score, we got five RBI out of our eight hole,” Randazzo said. “(Owen) Kalagher with a two-run single, Smith with the three-run homer, O’Neil leads off with a double, Falletta … he didn’t smoke it but he got a single and we were fortunate to turn over the lineup and Dodder even hit the ball, he hit a rope down the third base line and we were off to the races.”

Two more runs in the fourth, highlighted by an RBI single from Aidan Rivera, gave Fairfield a 10-5 lead.

‘It seemed it was like, dead (in the dugout) but when (Smith) hit it, everyone got up and that got us going and like coach said, it was contagious,” Iannazzo said. “Everyone started hitting after that.”

And after the offense did its job, it was time for the defense to shine. In the fifth, after Caiden Thomsen had hit a solo home run to pull Walla Walla within 10-6, Hayden Lomeli launched one to center field that had home run distance but Fairfield’s Anthony Pollack made a great catch at the wall to end the Washington threat.

“I had no idea I was that close to the wall,” Pollack said. “I thought I was like, five feet away and I didn’t think I was going to catch it at first, so I just jumped and I caught it.”

Meanwhile, Bauer got Fairfield into the sixth where Matt Vivona was waiting to take the ball and close out the victory.

“He (Tyler) battled,” Randazzo said. “We knew he was going 85 (pitches). He had a couple of difficult innings but we fortunate that he got through the fifth inning. He hit two batters but he only walked one so the command was pretty good. Tyler … we needed a long outing, we needed at least five innings and to get to Matt and he gave us exactly what we needed.”

Which was keep Fairfield American alive for at least one more day.

CElsberry@ctpost.com