BRISTOL -- Fairfield American mustered all its skills in a complete effort on Tuesday afternoon to bounce back from defeat two nights earlier at the Little League New England regionals at Breen Field. The Americans' 5-3 victory over previously undefeated Rhode Island, courtesy of Jamie Flink's two-out, two-run opposite field home run in the bottom of the sixth inning, allowed Fairfield to finish in first place in pool play.
Fairfield (15-2 overall) will play in a regional semifinal on Thursday at 3 p.m. against the No. 4 seed, which will be determined when pool play ends on Wednesday afternoon. The chanmpionship is Saturday night at 7 on ESPN.
The Americans were 3-1 in the preliminary games, but a loss to Cumberland American would have left them with a 2-2 record. Rhode Island (9-1 overall) can clinch the No. 2 seed with a win against Vermont on Wednesday. That result would leave Fairfield and Rhode Island with 3-1 records. But the Americans' win over Rhode Island head to head would be the first tie-breaker.
For Flink, it was his third game-winning hit of the summer. He said he had a plan while John Reynolds was on first base following a fielder's choice, reaching when Brian Kiremidjian, who opened the inning with a walk, was out at second.
"I decided to swing on the first pitch," said Flink, who had singled during Fairfield's rally when it took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning.
"Luckily, I hit it. I try to do the right thing at the right time. Sometimes I get it done."
The lefty batter socked it over the fence in left field.
Flink's hit wasn't the Americans' only clutch at-bat. Jack Steed, who went 3-for-3, smacked a two-out single in the bottom of the fifth inning with Rhode Island leading 3-2. That drove home pinch runner Trey Hensel, who had replaced Ian Bentley, whose two-out double had started Fairfield's rally.
Early on, the game was a pitchers' battle between Fairfield starter PJ Egan and Rhode Island's Christopher Davock.
Fairfield scored first in the third inning when Vince Camera reached on an infield single, which allowed Reynolds to race in from third. Rhode Island made it 1-1 in the top of the fourth but the Americans answered in the bottom of the inning. Egan darted home from third when Reynolds reached first on an infield hit under the first baseman's glove.
Rhode Island tied it on a passed ball in the top of the fifth and gained a 3-2 lead on an error, the first time all summer Fairfield had relinquished the lead on a mistake in the field.
By the time the pitchers' duel had faded, Bentley had taken over from Brian Howell, Fairifeld's first reliever, and Addison Kopack had replaced Davock in the fifth inning. Bentley retired Rhode Island in order in the sixth to earn the win.
"He beat me to the punch," Rhode Island manager David Belisle said of his Fairfield counterpart, Michael Steed, right after the game. "He said `you've got a great team', and I said the same. When I look in the mirror, I see our team and when I look in the mirror, I see their team."
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New England Little League regional
Fairfield American 5, Rhode Island 3
RHODE ISLAND 000 120--3 6 1
FAIRFIELD AMERICAN 001 112--5 10 1
Records: Rhode Island 9-1, 2-1 New England; Fairfield American 15-2, 3-1 New England. Batteries: RI--Christopher Davock, Addison Kopack (5) and Trey Bourque; FA--PJ Egan, Brian Howell (4), Ian Bentley (5) and Vince Camera.