Fairfield American wins state Intermediate Little League crown
With a state championship in hand and a spot in the Eastern Regional this weekend on Long Island, a modified Fairfield Little League all-star baseball team is one step away from qualifying for the World Series in California that will end in early August.
The Fairfield American Little League's entry in the state tournament won three games in Middlefield earlier this month to capture the state Intermediate 50/70 title, edging the other two teams entered, Coventry and Coginchaug (Durham). Statewide this spring, on the recreation, in-house level, there were close to 20 teams playing Intermediate 50/70, said Neil Spagna, Fairfield American's president. Fairfield American fielded four teams and accepted a team of Fairfield National Little League players for competition in the spring at Gould Manor.
Intermediate 50/70, unveiled by national Little League administrators a few years ago, is a version of baseball meant to ease the transiton from traditional Little League diamond dimensions to the full adult version with standard distances from the pitcher's rubber to home plate (60 feet) and between each base (90 feet). Little League diamonds used by 9- to 12 year olds have a universal distance from the rubber to home of 46 feet and the space between the bases of 60 feet.
Intermediate diamonds feature 50 feet from the mound to home and 70 feet separating each base.
Rules are different as well, more closely resembling the Big Leagues. Intermediate plays allows base runners to take leads, so there are pickoff attempts, stolen bases, pitchers delivering from the stretch and balks called by umpires, unlike the popular version of Little League played worldwide.
"With the extra distance from home plate, batters have (close to) another second to watch the pitch, and that makes quite a difference," Spagna said.
Intermediate 50/70 ordinarily has more runs than 46/60 Little League games.
This is the second year of a World Series in the division. Spagna says Intermediate 50/70 could be the future of Little League but admits most 13 year olds are lured by the 60/90 fields of older divisions and prohibitive costs can deter leagues from building 50/70 fields.
Paul Sirbono, the manager of Fairfield American, says the regional of teams from New England and Middle Atlantic states will be more of a challenge than the state competition that concluded with a 17-7 Fairfield American victory over Coventry on July 9.
Fairfield's roster features one 13 year old, with the rest a year younger. Sirbono acknowledged on balance most 13 year olds' skills at bat, on the mound, in the field and on the base paths are slightly more developed than most 12 year olds. He has learned that most of the teams at Commack and Dix Hills, N.Y., from Saturday through July 25 are predominantly populated with mainly 13 year olds.
"We'll have our work cut out for us -- and the players know that, too," Sirbono said. "We're going to have to play clean baseball. We'll have to play tight defense and limit the other teams from having long innings."
At the state tournament, with its double-elimination format, Fairfield outlasted Coginchaug 11-10 on July 5. The next day, the Americans defeated Coventry 13-11. On July 8, Coventry beat Coginchaug 16-3 to reach the final against Fairfield.
In the championship game, Coventry took a 4-3 lead in the second inning. In the bottom of the third, the Americans tied at 4-4, then gained a 5-4 edge before Tommy Hoover's grand slam gave Fairfield a 9-4 lead. Fairfield won by 17-7 in the sixth inning with the invoking of the 10-run mercy rule.
"Every player played at least three innings a game in the field and got at least one at bat," Sirbono said. "That's what made it so special."
Scott Strang, the state tournament's site director, congratulated Sirbono on the team's championship and told him how the Americans impressed him.
"He told me, `Your team has really solid pitching, but it was your hitting that wore teams down,' " Sirbono said earlier this week.
Fairfield collected 42 hits total in the three games in Middlefield, with six doubles and two home runs.
American pitchers struckout 17 batters in 20 innings.