Most baseball managers will say strong pitching and fielding set up their batters. The Fairfield American Little League all-stars have such a potent and smart array of hitters, it could be said their batters nearly always set the tone for the rest of the team.
Pushing runs across has been the one sure thing during this summertime run through four tournaments that has now reached the New England regional.
Fairfield's offense once again did not take the night off -- though the booming hits were limited -- and forced the Vermont state champions from Williston to use four pitchers in a 9-4 Americans' victory Friday night at Breen Field in Bristol, the pool-play opener for both teams. Fairfield, which has won five games in a row, plays Maine at 8 p.m. Saturday. Vermont plays Maine on Sunday afternoon.
Fairfield (13-1) scored three runs in the bottom of the first inning. Then, after Trey Hensel's first home run of the postseason leading off the Americans' second, they added four more in the fourth inning, giving the Connecticut champions an 8-2 lead. Patience proved to be the primary virtue of Fairfield's offense against Vermont.
Three of the five batters who drew walks found their way around the base paths to score.
Fairfield starter PJ Egan was relieved in the third inning as Vermont (9-2) began to rally.
Sam Davenport came in and threw 39 pitches while getting five outs before he was replaced by Brian Howell in the fifth. Howell inherited a bases-loaded jam, with Vermont pressing to close its deficit from 8-4, but the Americans' starting shortstop got a strikeout before center fielder John Reynolds made a nice catch to stifle the rally.
"Sam came on and had four strikeouts on 13 pitches," said Americans' manager Michael Steed. "We knew he had his stuff. He was on a roll. We knew our bats would come alive."
They started right away, knocking out Vermont starter Storm Rushford after one inning.
Jamie Flink drew a one-out walk before Howell drove him home with a double down the right-field line. Vince Camera followed with a single that scored Howell. Following a walk to Ian Bentley, Jack Steed's double to right-center field pushed across Camera.
"We were confident and knew that we would get some hits together and score some runs," said Howell, who scored Fairfield's sixth run after being hit by a pitch in the fifth inning and reaching home on a bases-loaded walk to Jack Steed.
Howell said luck played a role in allowing him to limit Vermont's fifth-inning threat after two runs had been scored.
"I messed up on that pitch," he said. "He (catcher Camera) called fastball and I threw a curveball. John is an outstanding outfielder. He pulled off a great catch."
Michael Steed said all games are important to win, but he placed more meaning on taking a pool-play tournament's first game.
"You don't want to get in a hole. The most important win is the first," he said.
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Fairfield American 9, Vermont 4
VERMONT 002 020 -- 4 5 0
FAIRFIELD AMERICAN 310 41X -- 9 9 0
Records: Vermont 9-2, Fairfield American 13-1. Batteries: V--Storm Rushford, Griffin McDermott (2), Aidan Johnson (4), Benjamin Herskowitz (5) and Jonah Roberts; FA--PJ Egan, Sam Davenport (3), Brian Howell (5) and Vince Camera.