TRUMBULL -- The start of the game and the ending couldn't have been more of a contrast for the Fairfield American Little League all-star team in its 14-4 victory over Monroe Thursday that sent it to the District 2 tournament final. Monroe (4-2) will play a semifinal Friday at 7:30 against Westport, winner of the losers' bracket on Tuesday over Fairfield National.
The Monroe/Westport survivor would then meet Fairfield American at Unity Park at 4 p.m. on Saturday for the start of the final round. Because the format of the tournament is double-elimination, an American win on Saturday would give the undefeated Fairfielders the district title. A loss would force another game between the two Saturday combatants to decide the championship on Sunday (time TBA) that would advance the winner to next week's revised sectional playoffs in Orange.
The beginning of Thursday's game at Unity Park featured Monroe scoring two runs each in the top of the first and second innings, putting the Americans (6-0) in a 4-0 hole. Following 14 unanswered runs by Fairfield, the game finished in the top of the fourth with a Monroe runner on first base, then a dropped third strike was caught and thrown to first base by catcher Vince Camera for one out before the Monroe runner on first base was tagged out during a rundown for the second out of the remarkable game-ending double play.
The game was over after 3 1/2 innings from the invoking of the 10-run mercy rule that can apply any time a team trails by 10 runs or more after the fourth inning has begun.
Fairfield American manager Michael Steed said there were anxious moments on his side among coaches and players alike while it trailed by four runs. Monroe manager Chris Kipp did not refute the notion that the 12-run bottom of the second inning outburst by Fairfield represented anything other than a dreadful experience.
"We had a real bad inning," Kipp said.
In the bottom of the second, Fairfield scored 12 runs on six hits, one Monroe error and five walks. Passed balls and wild pitches were part of the rally's mix, too. American left fielder Connor O'Neill drove in the first run with a single through the box, then got his second at bat of the inning with a 9-4 lead and slugged a three-run home run to make it 12-4.
"Not bad production from the No. 9 hitter in our lineup," Steed said of O'Neill, "four RBIs in the inning."
Shortstop Brian Howell slipped a single that took a bad hop past Monroe's first baseman and drove in three runs. That tied it at 4-4. Fairfield's next batter reached on an infield error, which made it 5-4 Americans. PJ Egan and Ian Bentley added RBI singles. In the third inning, Camera cracked a two-run homer, giving Fairfield its 10-run cushion.
"With 12-year-old kids, they get deflated," Kipp said. "I told them as they mature, they'll learn in situations like this to come out with the same intensity as before. You cannot give a team six or seven outs in an inning. That's never a good thing. We had a chance to get out of the inning at 4-4 but we made that error. Then the floodgates opened."
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MONROE 220 0--4 6 1
FAIRFIELD AMERICAN 0(12)2 X--14 9 1