BRISTOL - Connecticut rode the bottom of its order to victory in Tuesdayâ€™s Little League New England Regional Tournament contest against Massachusetts, but on Wednesday against Maine, it turned to its premier contributors.
Starting pitcher Chase Geremia blew through Maineâ€™s lineup on the mound, tossing 3 2/3 hitless innings while logging eight strikeouts, and that was only half of his production.
His three-run triple in the fourth blew open a tight game to give Connecticut a 6-1 victory and move the team to within two wins of the Little League World Series.
â€śWe kept putting baserunners on in the beginning of the game and not scoring,â€ť Connecticut head coach James Maynard said. â€śSo it was getting a little scary, but Chase ripped it open.â€ť
The next step in Connecticutâ€™s tournament journey will come on Friday afternoon against the loser of New Hampshire and Rhode Island on ESPN.
â€śItâ€™s great,â€ť Maynard said. â€śItâ€™s not surprising to me only because I know the talent we have on this team. I said after the loss to Vermont that we were better than that, and it was surprising to me the way that game unfolded. I think theyâ€™re showing their true colors now.â€ť
Connecticut applied immediate pressure on Maine starter Michael Caron, who was making his first pitching appearance of the tournament.
Christian Kells and Geremia greeted Caron with a pair of one-out singles, and a walk later in the inning loaded the bases with two outs. But Caron collected himself and forced William Patla to pop out in the infield and escape the early trouble unscathed.
Caron ran into more trouble in the second, only this time he was unable to escape.
With one out, Trevor Cash and Aidan Doyle smacked a pair of singles to bring up the top of the order in Johnny Reh, who sliced a sinking liner to right center that was almost fielded by center fielder Andrew Theriault, but the ball squirted out of his glove as he collided with the ground, giving Reh an RBI single as Connecticut grabbed a 1-0 lead.
Connecticut scattered six hits across the first three innings but managed just the one run off Caron. Still, it felt like a cozy lead for Geremia, who dominated Maineâ€™s lineup the first time through.
The hard-throwing righty faced the minimum through three innings, recording seven strikeouts, including six in a row through the second and third innings.
â€śHe was lights out,â€ť Maynard said. â€śWeâ€™re so lucky to have all these talented pitchers on this team. Itâ€™s what got us here.â€ť
While Geremia cruised, Caron labored through another rocky inning in the fourth, walking the bases loaded with one out for Geremia, who blew the game open with a bases-clearing triple to the wall in right field to give Connecticut a 4-0 lead.
He came around to score when the next batter Paul Calandrelli secured an RBI groundout make it 5-0 Connecticut.
Geremia surrendered his first baserunner in the bottom of the fourth on a walk to pinch hitter Mason Laflamme, but he rebounded to strike out Jeffrey Randall for his eighth and final punchout of the game before he was relieved by Calandrelli. In six total innings by Geremia through two tournament starts, he sits at 14 total strikeouts.
â€śWe have a luxury that we can manage pitch counts and go to another ace afterward,â€ť Maynard said. â€śWeâ€™re really fortunate to have that kind of pitching depth.â€ť
A sudden downpour halted action in the top of the fifth, delaying the game for an hour and 40 minutes before play resumed and Connecticut picked up right where it left off.
Cash led off the inning with a walk against Joseph Dube before Morris Selmani hammered an RBI double down the left field line to stretch the lead to 6-0.
Maine finally broke into the hit column with two outs in the fifth on a line drive single to left by pinch hitter Spencer Chartier, and later broke the shutout in the sixth after a walk to Ethan Pelletier and a fielderâ€™s choice put Maineâ€™s first runner in scoring position for the game.
That runner was quickly brought home on an RBI single to right by Laflamme, but Calandrelli struck out the last batter to secure the combined two-hitter with Geremia, while the two also recorded a total of three hits and four RBI at the plate.
â€śTheyâ€™re massively talented and athletic kids,â€ť Maynard said. â€śTheyâ€™re going to be good at whatever they do. Itâ€™s so nice to be able to rely on those type of kids in the middle of the order, and having them as aces on the team is a luxury.â€ť