LINCOLN — 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 isn’t 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 year’s crossover semifinal contest.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Netto said. “They are 3-0 just like us and beating teams similar to the way we have been beating teams.”
Although it has only one returning player from 2010 [Zack Pipa], Lincoln fields a team that Netto feels is nearly identical to last year’s 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.
“This team doesn’t hit home runs like last year’s team, but with the new restrictions on bats neither are most of the other teams,” Netto said. “But 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.”
Sheehan and Fay have done the bulk of the work on the mound for Lincoln with reliable hurler Noah Duquette also showing promise. Sheehan’s and Duquette’s 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.
“We have strong pitching and they have learned how to pitch as opposed to just throwing hard,” Netto said. “They are learning different situations and really refining the skills of pitching.”
With the game being pushed another day, Netto is still unsure who he will send to the mound for Saturday’s game. Little League rules states that if it’s only three days between games, a pitcher cannot exceed 50 pitches if he is going to play the next game.
“I am kind of figuring [who I’ll pitch] right now,” said the second-year Lincoln coach, a former player for the town’s All-Star squad. “It’s going to be interesting. I might have to use as many pitchers as I can.”
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. He’s 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.
“We don’t hit the towering home runs but we hit a lot of line drives and we do some smart base-running,” Netto said. “We do what it takes to get on base. They are all so dedicated and really study the game, especially hitting. They are very disciplined.”
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.
“He is the one person responsible,” he said. “He has been a complete wall at the plate. He has been the team sparkplug.”
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.
“They were just better than us that day,” Netto said. “We were taken off guard. We have no excuses.”
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.
“They have seven 11-year-olds from last year,” he said. “They are very experienced and very solid defensively. They are not going to make many errors. They are extremely well-coached…It will be fun to watch.”
The winner of tomorrow’s contest plays Cumberland National (second-place in Pool B) in Tuesday’s 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.