Two-out rally! Fairfield American Little League All-Stars deliver in the clutch in Metro opener
By Rick Menning
BRISTOL, CT -- Perseverance certainly paid off in a big way for the Fairfield American Major Division Little League Baseball All-Stars in their Metro Region opening game against Rhode Island on Saturday night.
Winners in 13 of their 14 games along the All-Star tournament trail going back to districts, Fairfield American believes in its ability to respond to any situation facing them on the diamond.
Competing in only the second game of the inaugural Metro Region, which also includes the states of New York and New Jersey in addition to Rhode Island, Manager Matt Lawlor's squad faced a tough challenge but came through with flying colors.
Five batters reached base on walks during the first three innings, but the Connecticut state champions were unable to get that key hit as the Cumberland team held a 1-0 lead going into the top of the fourth inning.
"I know we were getting no-hit for a little while, but we still had really good at-bats," Matt Lawlor said. "I told the guys 'let's just put the ball in play and see what happens' and things started to go from there."
Setting the stage
The boys in the red and white uniforms had a capacity crowd of host state fans at the A. Bartlett Giamatti Little League Leadership Training Center filled with optimism after Patrick Jodice's fly ball just inside the right-field line popped out of the outfielder's glove in fair territory and Jodice hustled to second base on the error.
Tommy Gardiner then followed that effort by executing a great sacrifice bunt advancing Jodice into scoring position.
Although Rhode Island clamped down defensively and managed to record an out at third base, Connecticut kept the pressure on as Will Hathaway reached on a fielder's choice and Declan Gitman was hit by a pitch to keep the inning alive.
Quick chat with dad
That brought up Dylan Lawlor, who had a quick conversation with his dad in the dugout. Could a two-out rally be in the works?
"I went over to my dad and I told him 'I'm going to tag the first pitch,'" Dylan Lawlor said in the post-game press conference. "I knew he was going to throw me a fast ball. Luckily that's what happened. (The pitch) was down the middle and I put it in right field."
His dramatic RBI single tied the game as Hathaway raced all the way around from second base. The excitement among the Connecticut supporters was growing in intensity.
The usually animated Dylan, who several times in the game encouraged the Connecticut crowd to get fired up by facing them and waving his hands in the air, actually needed a moment to take in his accomplishment.
"I was speechless at first and in the moment, so I didn't have a big reaction," Dylan Lawlor said. "It was crazy and so exciting that it happened."
Pump up the volume
But it was about to get even louder and more dramatic as Drew Kane came up next and laced another RBI base hit that scored Gitman as Fairfield American grabbed a 2-1 advantage.
"It was awesome (to get that hit)," Kane said. "I went up to the plate with a lot of confidence. When I'm in that position (with a chance to do something special) I'm always confident. I just knew I needed to stay back on that fast ball."
Fairfield American tacked on an insurance run in that same inning when Dylan Lawlor came in to score on another Cumberland error to make it 3-1 which turned out to be the final score.
Kane also came through at crunch time on the mound with a great two innings of relief as he retired five of the seven batters he faced. Starting pitcher Will Ryan was solid over four innings, striking out seven and walking only one.
"Our defense and pitching have won us games this summer, so it's not surprising that we made big plays tonight," Matt Lawlor said.
Gold glove display
The biggest of those big fielding plays came in the top of the fifth inning.
With a Rhode Island runner on second base and one out, Kane handled a sharp grounder right back at him and threw over to first baseman Tristan Rivera for the 1-3 putout. Then, Rivera fired the ball over to third baseman Will Ryan, who applied a perfect tag on the runner trying to get back to the bag.
"That was huge," Matt Lawlor said. "We work on that play in practice all the time ... and when Tristan saw that runner break for home and get too far (off the bag) he made a great throw over for that third out."
Connecticut also flashed the leather in the top of the third inning when, after a home run by Rhode Island's Cam Slack, the next batter singled but was thrown out trying to steal on a rope to second by catcher Max Mulhall as Dylan Lawlor applied the tag.
The Major Division squad from Fairfield tried to add even more insurance runs in the fifth inning after Brooks Fonseca doubled to right/center field and Max Mulhall laid down a bunt base hit. However, Cumberland made clutch fielding plays of its own to keep the score at 3-1.
Key game on deck
Fairfield American (14-1) will face Massapequa, New York -- a 6-3 winner over Tom's River, New Jersey in the other Metro regional -- in second-round action on Monday afternoon at 1 p.m. A victory would catapult the Connecticut state champions into Friday's Metro Region championship game.