BRISTOL - When Connecticut head coach James Maynard called on his bench in Tuesday nightâ€™s Little League New England Regional Tournament matchup with Massachusetts, his substitutes were ready to strike.
Facing elimination and caught in a 1-1 tie, Maynard sent four straight pinch hitters to the plate in the bottom of the fourth and all four reached base, recording three hits and a fielderâ€™s choice to ignite a three-run rally and send Connecticut to a matchup with Maine on Wednesday after a 4-1 win.
Pinch hitters Alex Modica and Shailen Pathy picked up singles in the inning before Morris Selmani came off the bench and ripped a two-run double to give Connecticut a pair of valuable insurance runs.
â€śItâ€™s really good because we already had one loss,â€ť Selmani said. â€śWe had to really try and do our best to win this game. We won, and now we get to move on to Maine.â€ť
Connecticutâ€™s starters also pitched in, giving the team the lead in the bottom of the first when Christian Kells laced a one-out triple to the fence in right field, and scored on an RBI groundout by Chase Geremia, putting Connecticut on top 1-0.
Massachusetts answered back in the top of the third, just when it seemed like Kells was cruising through another scoreless frame on the mound. With two outs and the bases empty, Richie Hayes kept the inning alive with an RBI single, and Ryan Domineau brought in Hayes with a double to tie the game.
Kells was replaced on the mound by Johnny Reh, who struck out the side in the top of the fourth before Connecticut staged a rally in the bottom half of the inning thanks to another pack of substitutes. Nicholas Maynard slapped a single to left to lead off the frame, and the inningâ€™s first pinch hitter Modica knocked a single into the exact same spot to put runners on first and second with nobody out. After a conference with Massachusetts starter Beckett Delleo, another pinch hitter in Doyle bounced a single through the shortstop hole to load the bases, though only for a moment. The shortstop MacNeil was called for interference and impeding the path of Maynard. After a long conference on the field, the call stood, and Connecticutâ€™s pinch hitters had helped the team claim a 2-1 lead.
â€śIt really didnâ€™t surprise me that the rally was sparked by those hitters,â€ť James Maynard said. â€śTheyâ€™ve been contributing all year.â€ť
Two more pinch hitters were sent up to bat following the interference call, and the latter came through. With runners at the corners and one out, Selmani laced an RBI double down the left field line to score Modica and stretch the lead to 3-1, ending Delleoâ€™s night and putting runners at second and third with just one out. Andrew Burke came on in relief for Massachusetts and intentionally walked Kells to load the bases for Geremia, who worked a full count before taking a pitch outside to force in another run and give Connecticut a 4-1 lead, which Reh would maintain through the final out, tossing three scoreless innings in relief to keep Connecticut alive for at least another day.
â€śJust dominant,â€ť James Maynard said of the collective pitching performance. â€śThatâ€™s whatâ€™s got us here. Weâ€™ve played 17 games now, and we wouldnâ€™t be where we are now if it wasnâ€™t for our pitching, and the way they throw the ball.â€ť
Pitching has been the anchor all year, but on Tuesday night it was the bench, though Maynard was as surprised of his pinch hittersâ€™ production as he was to see his pitchers throw their usual effective innings.
â€śWe have 13 kids on this team, and weâ€™ve said all year that 1-through-13 are as much of a vital part to this team as the next one,â€ť Maynard said. â€śIt didnâ€™t surprise me at all that they came through. We have a massive amount of confidence in every kid on this team.â€ť