An uncharacteristic finish for Fairfield American
Published 11:41 pm, Saturday, August 9, 2014
BRISTOL -- Perhaps it was the pressure of being on national television, or maybe it was simply just a bad night at the worst of times.
Regardless of what caused Fairfield American to unravel Saturday evening at Breen Field, this much is true: the dream is over.
There will be no trip to South Williamsport, Pa., and the Little League World Series for this summer's all-stars from Fairfield. Instead, Cumberland, R.I., will get the privilege of representing New England after a come-from-behind 10-6 win over Fairfield.
The way it unfolded for the Connecticut state champs was unusual, too. Sure-handed all summer, they uncharacteristically committed three errors in the New England final. Five unearned runs scored as a result.
"All their hitters were locked in," Fairfield American manager Mike Steed said of Cumberland American, which recorded 10 hits. "Our team made one error in the previous five games, so ... any time you give Rhode Island a couple extra outs, it's going to bite you."
Trailing 3-0, Rhode Island was gifted two extra outs in the first inning on misplayed grounders. Rhode Island took advantage, tying it against Fairfield American ace PJ Egan.
A two-run blast by Brian Kiremidjian -- the third baseman's second homer of the summer -- in the second inning off Nick Croteau put Fairfield American back in front, 5-3.
In the fourth inning, though, the good feelings unraveled. Rhode Island erupted for five runs in the inning, all with two outs. One of those runs scored when a throw from center field into home sailed over the catcher's head. Another run came on a wild pitch, making it 8-5.
With his team playing before ESPN's cameras for the first time, Steed suggested that nerves were a factor.
"They're playing on national television," Steed said. "You've got a team that hits as well as Rhode Island does, sometimes the kids try and do too much."
Steed also didn't blame Fairfield American's (16-3) loss on errors. After all, the all-stars were resilient, loading the bases in their last at-bat down 10-6.
"I thought we had a lot of fight," Steed said. "A couple more base hits would make it a little more interesting in the top of the sixth. But, that's baseball.
"They're 12-year-old boys. They don't get paid to do it. Neither do I."
They all had their hearts set on extending their magical summer, but as Saturday proved, sometimes the unexpected happens. Even Rhode Island manager David Belisle, who first took Cumberland American to the LLWS in 2011, couldn't have predicted an ending for Saturday.
"It turned out to be something unexpected in the end. ... It was a nailbiter," Belisle said.
Cumberland American ace Nick Croteau had been unscored upon in his previous 6 1/3 innings in Bristol this week, notching two wins, one save and 12 strikeouts. But even he was ineffective early.
Croteau labored through a 26-pitch first inning, allowing three runs on three hits. Still, Croteau's worst outing of the regional was still good enough for Rhode Island.
Those were the breaks for Fairfield American.
"Baseball's a beautiful game, but it's equally cruel," Steed said.