Strong pitching and solid fielding always are the keys to success in baseball at any level. But managers and coaches always smile when their teams add the long ball to their arsenal. Home runs can compensate when pitching and fielding aren't at their best.
Displays of power propelled Fairfield's two Little League teams to well-rounded victories on Wednesday afternoon at Trumbull's Unity Park in District 2 pool play that will set up the double-elimination tournament to determine the district winner, which begins on July 7 in Trumbull.
The Fairfield National Little League all-star team used a grand slam and a three-run homer in its first game of the tournament to defeat Westport 10-4. The Fairfield American Little League team improved to 2-0 by smacking six home runs to beat Easton 20-2 in a game that was abbreviated by the mercy rule in the fourth inning.
Fairfield National (1-0) will play Stratford (0-1) on Friday at 5:30 p.m. at Unity Park, with its next games scheduled for Monday at 7:30 p.m. against the Trumbull Americans (1-0) and Bridgeport North End (0-1) on July 3 at 5:30 p.m. Fairfield American, which won the state tournament last year for 11-year-olds, plays Redding (0-0) on Friday at 5:30 p.m. with its final game set for Monday at 5:30 p.m. against Trumbull National (1-0). Westport (1-1), whose 2013 team finished second in the country and fourth globally at the World Series, will play Stratford on Monday at 5:30 p.m. before winding up pool play on July 3 against Trumbull American at 5:30 p.m.
Pool play has been divided into two groups of five, with each team playing the other four in its bracket once. The top two teams in each group will advance to the four-team double-elimination stage.
Fairfield National 10, Westport 4
Michael Murphy slugged an opposite-field grand slam to right field in the top of the second inning to give the Fairfield Nationals a 5-0 lead. Westport cut its deficit to 5-4 in the fourth inning before Fairfield's Chris Saladin belted a three-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning to complete a five-run inning. Murphy threw 10 pitches in relief of the Nationals starter, David Summers, to wrap it up in the sixth inning.
"Our hitters came through in the clutch and got us off to a good start," said Fairfield National manager Dr. Brad Weinstein. "They came back, then we responded. We practice going the opposite way. He (Murphy) fully extended (his arms on the grand slam). There was no doubt about it."
Westport rallied on a Kevin Rabacs' single leading off the top of the fourth inning. Starting pitcher Will Eichorn drew a walk and both advanced on a passed ball. Adam Petro's single made it 5-1. An outfield error by the Nationals allowed Westport to climb to within 5-3, then another passed ball by Fairfield and it was a one-run game at 5-4.
Murphy hit a grounds' rule double to right field to start the Nationals' fifth inning. He scored on two wild pitches by a Westport relief pitcher. A single through the box by Summers knocked home catcher Owen Stanton, which pushed Fairfield's lead to 7-4. After a single by shortstop Nick Parisi, Saladin launched a home run to right-center field, clearing the fence with plenty to spare, making it 10-4.
"We're fine," Westport manager Andy Thompson said of his team's prospects, though he did acknowledge that winning its remaining games would be the Westporters' easiest path to the double-elimination phase.
Fairfield American 20, Easton 2
Fairfield American starter Jamie Flink, a lefty, got Easton in order in the top of the first inning at an adjacent field to the Westport-Nationals game, then watched with pleasure as his team's batters solved Easton's pitching with a home-run barrage.
Shortstop Brian Howell's three-run blast, his second of three home runs, gave the Americans an 8-0 lead in the second inning after a five-run, round-tripper-fueled first inning. By the bottom of the third inning, Fairfield had built a 20-0 lead.
Howell, who smacked a double as well, hit a pair of two-run homers and went 4-for-4 with eight runs batted in. Catcher Vince Camera went 3-for-4 and belted a solo homer. First baseman Ian Bentley, who relieved Flink in the fourth inning after throwing 35 pitches, hit a two-run home run and a double, and Sam Davenport, who came off the bench, connected on the other home run.
American manager Michael Steed offered no complaints about his batters but was focused on Flink's strong outing. "He threw a heavy ball tonight," Steed said. "He struck out three but he had six groundouts out of the 12 outs.
"We go into the game as this is the most important game of the summer. No lead is ever comfortable in Little League. Every team is capable of a big inning. We felt comfortable with where we were. They all focus on driving the ball where it's pitched. (John) `Scooter' Reynolds hit an outside pitch down the right-field line for a triple. We were swinging the bats really well."
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