CUMBERLAND — After a much-deserved 10-day break from competitive baseball, recent state champion Cumberland American begins its quest for a trip to Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series this weekend. The All-Star squad faces Massachusetts’s titlist Andover National Saturday afternoon at 2 in the opener of the New England Regional Tournament at Breen Field in Bristol, Conn.
Just two days before making the two-hour trek to the A. Bartlett Giametti Complex, manager Dave Belisle had his undefeated squad at Bentley Field Tuesday night for some fine-tuning and last-minute adjustments.
Cumberland American’s appearance comes a year after neighboring Cumberland National represented R.I. at the regionals in 2010.
“I don’t think they are going to know what hit them until they get there,” Belisle said. “They hear a lot from their friends at Cumberland National and the experience that they had. I think, just like anything else, if you really want to appreciate it you have to experience it. They’re excited, but I think they’ll really get the taste of it when they land there and spend a few days there and know that it’s all about Little League baseball at its ultimate and experience top-level play and also have a fun time. It’s like a baseball camp.”
CALL goes into the regionals brimming with confidence, something that was gained after a successful 6-0 run in the District IV Tournament and a convincing three-game sweep at the State Tournament, capped by their 17-5 victory over Central Coventry in the championship finals last Wednesday.
Cumberland American finished the Rhode Island portion of the Little League season out-scoring its opponents, 110-12.
“When you hit the ball as much as they do, we got to be confident,” said Cumberland American assistant coach Matt Wright. “We have been facing some hard throwers and have been putting the bat on the ball. I don’t think they are going to be intimidated by the pitching down there. But we don’t know who we are going to see yet, so who knows?”
While the hitting has been at its ‘A’ game since its four-inning 10-0 rout of Burrillville on Opening Day back on June 25, Belisle knows his team is certainly not flawless and will have to be prepared to face some top-level Little League squads from the region.
The CALL manager feels the mound may be the primary area that has to step it up a notch in Connecticut to produce some wins.
“We always got to be careful with our pitching,” he said. “As we move up the ladder to the talent pool, we got to have a little more depth. We are going to ask a few more guys to pitch who didn’t even get the opportunity to pitch in the regular district play. I think the depth of our pitching is what we have to work on right now.”
As evident by its five mercy-rule decisions, the bats have been hot. Cumberland’s top seven hitters against Central Coventry belted out 14 hits, including a 4-for-4 effort from Max Hanuschak and multiple knocks from Ryan McCormick, Jake Glod, Chris Wright and Conor Lavallee.
“The top seven guys hit with power and then you got the bottom half that just puts the bat on the ball and brings the pitcher’s pitch count up so it’s a nice combination of power and good at-bats,” Belisle said. “It makes for a tough lineup to pitch to. It really is. The kids that are coming in off the bench, they are not missing a beat.”
Again, Cumberland American begins action on Saturday when it battles Andover. Matt Wright had a chance to witness Andover’s title-clinching 7-6 victory over Braintree this past Sunday.
“They are solid defensively,” said the elder Wright. “They put the bat on the ball. They have a couple of power hitters. They have a big catcher with a real good arm who throws hard. I saw a couple of their pitchers. They throw strikes. Every team we face is going to be a good team. They look like a solid team.”
Cumberland American will send Hanuschak to the hill in the opener.
“He has been our top guy,” Belisle said. “Max won our championship game for the (11-year-old) states last year. He got us a big win against Lincoln in the district finals this year. And he got us our No. 1 win in the state championship. We are going to go with who we feel now is pitching the best, and he’s the best right now.”