LINCOLN — On their way to posting undefeated records in pool play of the District IV Little League All Star Tournament, Cumberland American and Lincoln combined to outscore their opponents by an 87-12 margin.
After their respective semifinal games on Tuesday night at Hien Field, the two powerhouse teams kept their records unblemished.
But it wasn't quite that easy.
Cumberland American did its damage early and survived a gutsy effort by Smithfield to earn a 3-1 win. In the nightcap, Lincoln also got its offense going at the beginning and then had to stave off a late rally by Cumberland National in the bottom of the sixth to eke out a 5-3 decision.
The dual victories sets up a battle of the unbeatens on Friday in the district finals at Burrillville's Sherman Field at 6:30 p.m.
'We need to be perfect,” said Lincoln coach Matt Netto. “We need to hit. We need to play perfect defense and throw everything we have at them. They are a very good team. I think we are a very good team...I am just looking forward to a legendary game on Friday. I think it's going to be great. I think it's going to be a battle.”
Cumberland American, which was 4-0 in Pool B, got a splendid performance from starter Connor Mastin. The determined righty allowed just three hits over five innings before he reached the mandatory 85-pitch count. Connor Lavallee had a near perfect sixth, walking a batter but striking out three in his relief effort.
Cumberland American literally started off the game with a bang as Ryan McCormick blasted a 3-2 pitch off Smithfield righthander Nicholas Squillante in the top of the first for a leadoff home run. Cumberland scored two more runs in the third for an early 3-0 advantage.
Instead of unfolding at that point, Smithfield buckled down. Squillante overcame his early trouble and relief pitcher Anthony Nappa kept Cumberland scoreless the final two innings.
“The way this game was played it was good, clean baseball,” CALL coach Dave Belisle said. '”There were not a lot of Ks, just a lot of balls being hit to players. We got some big hits at the right time. I was waiting for us to explode because we got the capability. You got to give them credit. Their two pitchers did a good job of mixing the outside and inside [pitch]. It was a great victory.”
After giving up the leadoff homer to McCormick, Squillante managed to get out of the inning with limited damage. He struck out the next two batters he faced and, after giving up a double to the fence from Max Hanuschak, got out of the inning with only one run scored with a pop out from Colin Connata.
“It was a great start,” Belisle said. 'We have been doing it so often in the first round. I give [Squillante] credit. He came out and struck the next two of our big hitters and I think that gave him confidence. It gave the team confidence. They jumped in the dugout only down 1-0. I think that was a turning point for them that they only let up one run in the top of the first because they know our lineup.”
With some speedy running on the base pads, Mastin hit a two-out triple in the top of the third and scored on a line drive single by Hanuschak. Hanuschak would eventually scored on a wild pitch to put CALL up by a 3-0 score.
Smithfield scored its lone run in the fifth, an inning that had potential to give Cumberland American some headaches. With one out, Ryan Powell drew a walk off Mastin. But on an infield single by Nappa, he was caught in a rundown for the second out. Ali Bastien followed with an RBI double to the fence in deep center. After Kyle Robert walked, the inning came to a close when Brian Goodwin nearly put one out of the park with a high fly ball that was caught at the fence in right field.
“Cumberland is a strong team,” said Smithfield coach Bob Squillante. “They have solid pitching that keeps them in the game. They have people out there throwing with the velocity that those two pitchers showed today. We hit the ball the latter part of the innings, it just happened to get to somebody. I thought we had a little break there in the fifth inning. A wrong base-running decision there and the inning could have turned out 3-3 with the fly ball that we had. I give a lot of credit to Cumberland. They made it difficult for us.”
Connor Sheehan was lights out for Lincoln as he limited Cumberland National to one hit over 3 2/3 innings. But with Lincoln leading by a 3-0 score and Sheehan under the 50-pitch count that would allow him to pitch again on Friday if needed, Netta took out his strong hurler.
The move nearly backfired.
Lincoln took a 3-0 lead in the first inning on a three-run homer by Noah Duquette. Mitchell Welinski had a lead off solo shot in the second to increase the cushion to 4-zip. Welinski would score again in the sixth after he hit a triple and was plated on a wild pitch.
That run provided just enough insurance for Lincoln to sneak out of its home park with a win.
Justice Belmont's RBI single in the fifth ended the shutout. Cumberland National sent seven players to the batter's box in the sixth. It's first five players reached base safely with a walk from leadoff batter Brandon McMillian and four straight singles from Brandon Croteau, Cam St. Amand, Josh Carlson and Alex Hale off reliever Nathan Fay. St. Amand and Hale each drove in runs with their base hits. Hale was caught in a rundown. Fay managed to survive the inning with two straight pop-outs, including a diving catch by left fielder Alex Levin on a hit by Belmont to end the game.