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LINCOLN â The Lincoln All-Stars have dominated pool play the first three games of the season, outscoring their rivals by a 31-1 margin.
When his unbeaten squad finishes up its slate in Pool A on Saturday night, Lincoln coach Matt Netto isnât expecting similar results against equally-unbeaten Smithfield (3-0) at Randy Hien Memorial Field.
The matchup, postponed from its original day of Friday due to the threat of thunderstorms, is the first time that the two squads have met since Smithfield knocked out then-undefeated Lincoln, 3-2, in seven innings in last yearâs crossover semifinal contest.
âItâs going to be a challenge,â Netto said. âThey are 3-0 just like us and beating teams similar to the way we have been beating teams.â
Although it has only one returning player from 2010 [Zack Pipa], Lincoln fields a team that Netto feels is nearly identical to last yearâs squad. Lincoln has a team batting average of .464 and a defense that has committed no errors in its first three games. The pitching, led by dual aces Connor Sheehan and Nathan Fay, has also been outstanding as evident by the one run its allowed.
âThis team doesnât hit home runs like last yearâs team, but with the new restrictions on bats neither are most of the other teams,â Netto said. âBut this is a very similar team. We have one 11-year-old and the rest are 12-year-olds, just like last year. We are very strong and deep pitching with two aces that probably throw harder than [our aces] last year.â
Sheehan and Fay have done the bulk of the work on the mound for Lincoln with reliable hurler Noah Duquette also showing promise. Sheehanâs and Duquetteâs last name should sound familiar to anyone who followed the 2009 squad that captured the district and state titles and was one win away in Bristol, Conn., from making it to the Williamsport for the Little League World Series. The two pitchers are the younger brothers of star players from that team - Jeff Sheehan and Tyler Duquette.
âWe have strong pitching and they have learned how to pitch as opposed to just throwing hard,â Netto said. âThey are learning different situations and really refining the skills of pitching.â
With the game being pushed another day, Netto is still unsure who he will send to the mound for Saturdayâs game. Little League rules states that if itâs only three days between games, a pitcher cannot exceed 50 pitches if he is going to play the next game.
âI am kind of figuring [who Iâll pitch] right now,â said the second-year Lincoln coach, a former player for the townâs All-Star squad. âItâs going to be interesting. I might have to use as many pitchers as I can.â
Offensively, Lincoln has hit just three home runs with Fay going yard once and Alex Levin belting two. But the talented locals have a solid lineup from top to bottom. Pipa occupies the leadoff spot. Heâs followed by Sheehan, Fay and Duquette for the key first four slots. Sixth man Nick Juckett and Sheehan lead the bats with averages hovering in the .700-range.
âWe donât hit the towering home runs but we hit a lot of line drives and we do some smart base-running,â Netto said. âWe do what it takes to get on base. They are all so dedicated and really study the game, especially hitting. They are very disciplined.â
Lincoln, which gave up its only run in its lone non-mercy rule affair - a 9-1 trouncing of Scituate-Foster - has been perfect defensively. Netto credits catcher Patrick Fanning as the leader in that category.
âHe is the one person responsible,â he said. âHe has been a complete wall at the plate. He has been the team sparkplug.â
In their semifinal game last year, Smithfield pitcher Mike Mecera was the star, not only with his arm but his bat. His home run in the seventh inning was the difference in the close extra-inning verdict.
âThey were just better than us that day,â Netto said. âWe were taken off guard. We have no excuses.â
Netto has had a chance to watch Smithfield a couple of times this summer and knows his team is in for a battle on Saturday.
âThey have seven 11-year-olds from last year,â he said. âThey are very experienced and very solid defensively. They are not going to make many errors. They are extremely well-coachedâŠIt will be fun to watch.â
The winner of tomorrowâs contest plays Cumberland National (second-place in Pool B) in Tuesdayâs semifinal at 6 p.m. at Hien Field. The loser will take on first-place Pool B winner Cumberland American at 8 p.m., also on Tuesday.