BRISTOL - With a trip to Williamsport, Pa., and the Little League World Series on the line, Ethan Righter, the starting pitcher for Connecticut champion Fairfield American Little League, delivered a performance for the ages Saturday afternoon.
Righter showed filthy stuff and Maine batters were late on his fastball throughout the game. He finished with nine strikeouts and led Connecticut past Maine’s South Portland American Little League 10-0 to win the New England Regional.
“Just sensational. He’s a fighter,” Maine manager Jim Poole said. “Every pitch he needed at a big time he got us. [The] coach said his curve was bad and I think he got about five of our guys on his curve.”
“[I was] very confident,” Righter said. “We already played them once and they’re a good team and we knew they could hit the ball, so we just had to keep them in check all game.”
Connecticut fans showed up in bunches, as the stands were packed and there was no room on the outfield fence with a crowd estimated at 5,500.
“We joke about it, but we do call it the red tsunami,” Connecticut manager Michael Randazzo said. “It started out as the ‘Red Sea,’ but as the season and summer went on, you see what happened. There’s thousands of people supporting us.”
In the first two innings, both teams featured strong pitching. Opposing Righter on the mound was Maine’s Andrew Heffernan.
Both innings flew by as Righter and Heffernan each threw 25 pitches in the two frames. Heffernan featured a nasty breaking ball that had Connecticut’s batters looking often.
He didn’t lose his composure at any point of his outing, even when seven runs were on the board against him.
“It was a pleasure to share the field with them,” manager Poole said. “If you’re going to lose to someone, you tip your cap to a phenomenal group of kids like that from Connecticut.
“I’m proud of [all of Maine’s players]. It was a sensational experience for all of us and something that we’ll always remember.”
Michael Iannazzo started the scoring for Connecticut with a two-run double in the third inning. After his double, Iannazzo advanced to third on a wild pitch by Heffernan and then scored on a Matthew Vivona ground ball.
Following another scoreless inning from Righter in the bottom of the third, Connecticut’s bench players were productive once again in what has proven to be an extremely deep lineup.
Griffin Dodder led the inning off and was hit by the first pitch from Heffernan. Andrew Cutler followed up Dodder with a single that just squeezed in between third baseman Ben Stanley and shortstop Johnny Poole. Sean O’Neil came up with two runners on base and ripped a one-run double.
With the three bench players producing one run, the top of the order was up again for Connecticut with nobody out in the inning.
Righter’s pop out to shortstop Poole was the first out of the inning. With one out, Iannazzo delivered once again with his second two-run double of the game and Connecticut took a comfortable 6-0 lead.
Both Iannazzo and teammate Vivona played on the Fairfield team that lost last year. This time around, the duo combined for seven runs driven in to win the final.
“I was more excited because we had the lead,” Iannazzo said. “Last year we were down 5-1, so this year we were more confident without that feeling of being down that much.”
Vivona had a two-run double of his own in the sixth inning that scored O’Neil and Righter. Christian Smith singled in Bauer to give Connecticut the 10-0 lead with just three outs remaining for Maine at the plate.
Bauer, who came in to pitch for Righter in the fifth inning, finished the ballgame with a strikeout of Stanley to send Connecticut to the Little League World Series.
“What helps us prepare and get ready for down there is, I’m gonna guess they’re going to be close games, and we played a number of close games, particularly over the last nine games,” manager Randazzo said.
“So whether we’re down by a few early or even down late, for that matter, we can bounce back and we’ll see what we can do when we get to Pennsylvania.”
Dan Orencole can be reached at , or On Twitter: @OrencoleDan