PAWTUCKET -- Almost simultaneously, co-managers Matt Bergeron and Luke McLaughlin leaned back in their office chairs rather amused when asked the question, “How the heck did you do it?!”
“We’re still trying to figure that out!” Bergeron exclaimed of the miraculous, comeback 13-12 victory recorded by the Boys & Girls Club of Pawtucket RBI Junior Division All-Stars over the Jersey City, N.J./Jackie Robinson Mets in Queens, N.Y. back on Saturday, July 13.
In the bottom of the seventh (and final) inning of the title clash of the RBI Northeast Regional Tournament, the group of 13-15 year olds trailed its aforementioned foe, 12-6, before it manufactured a flurry for the ages.
The tandem both laughed and grimaced while describing the frame.
“Dylan Boisclair reached on an error to start it, and Ricky Bourdeau got a hit before Rich Souza singled again to load the bases,” Bergeron explained. “Brett Gaudreau walked to score Boisclair, and – after a strikeout – Steve Otis had an RBI single to make it 12-8.
“David Mejia then ripped a two-run single to right, and – with Mejia at first and Otis on second – Nate Gagnon had a 2-1 count,” he added. “What happened next blew our minds; he hit a three-run, walk-off homer over the wall in right-center, and we couldn’t believe it! The kids went ballistic.”
With the astonishing triumph, the “PawSox” – aptly named in honor of their sponsors – clinched a bid to the RBI Junior Division World Series, one slated to begin in Minneapolis on Aug. 4.
“I was miked up the whole game, so I’m sure nobody could understand what was coming out of my mouth,” Bergeron chuckled recently. “We were supposed to play the final at Citi Field (home of the New York Mets, not to mention the Major League Baseball All-Star Game), but it had rained, so they switched it.
“Before the inning, we corralled the guys and said, ‘This is a true test of your being a man; that is, when you’re knocked down, how do you respond to it? If you stay together and fight to the end, good things will happen.’”
It may sound almost biblical, but they did.
“It was a spur of the moment kind of thing, but they responded – just like we hoped they would,” McLaughlin offered. “Everyone was in a state of shock. The kids were the most excited. We (as coaches) weren’t even sure if we had won the game because the Mets just stood at their positions, frozen. I think they were in shock, too.
“A lot of the people down the first-base line kept telling me that, despite the score (trailing 12-6), ‘Coach, you got this!’ and I was thinking, ‘Are you guys nuts?’” he continued. “We were down six in the bottom of the seventh, and we had one hit the previous three. I was like, ‘Are you people crazy?’
“After the game, a lot of the fans were saying, ‘We told you so.’ I just said, ‘I’m glad you guys were thinking it, because I thought, ‘There’s no way in hell.’”
What made the final so astonishing was this: The All-Stars had sailed to four straight blowout wins by a combined score of 57-1. They at first crushed Boston, 11-1, then ripped Providence (21-0) on July 11. The following day, they mustered cakewalks over Harlem (10-0) and Greater New York Sandlot (15-0) to set up their date with destiny.
The Pawtucketers now are preparing for the trip to Minnesota, one in which they’ll leave on Aug. 3. The last time this squad trekked to the RBI World Series, it dropped a 13-3 championship-game decision to Detroit inside Angels Stadium, the home of the American League’s Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
They finished as the national runner-ups.
“Our program had fallen on hard times (after that tourney),” Bergeron noted. “We had gone to regionals each year but lost our first game each year. You do that, and you’re out of contention.
“The good news this year is we have a lot of kids who have played at the (high school) varsity level,” he added. “They’ve played in big games, so they didn’t rattle.”
Mentioned McLaughlin: “Also, most of these kids have played in the Junior RBI League, so they didn’t have to spend a lot of time getting to know each other. They knew each other’s tendencies, how they played.
“They’ve played here after school when they were younger, and they played sandlot ball together; in high school, they played with or against each other. Obviously, that experience helped us.”
The team is comprised of the best 14 players from the six RBI Junior League teams. Among the members, 10 hail from Pawtucket, including Boisclair (St. Raphael), Bourdeau (Tolman), Ryan Depatie (Davies Tech), Gagnon (Tolman), Gaudreau (Tolman), Lopez (Tolman), Mejia (Shea), Jeremy Medina (Tolman), Otis (Tolman) and Souza (Wheeler). The four others are Jonathan Vadnais of Cumberland, John Costa of East Providence, Jordan Gibson of Rumford (East Providence High) and Ryan McGahern of Attleboro (Bishop Feehan).
“The thing about these guys, they’re so committed,” Bergeron said. “They’re willing to listen, and they learn from what we tell them. They come ready to work hard every day. They’re a very coachable group.”
Noted McLaughlin: “I think now they believe that no matter what the score is, they can come back and win; I believe they’re confidence soared after that game. No lead or deficit is too great to overcome. They know great things are possible because they’ve done it before on a huge stage.
“Their experience level is outstanding,” he continued. “They’re still 13, 14 and 15 years old, but their baseball maturity is comparable to high school upperclassmen. They act like they’ve been there before. Then again, a lot of them have been.”
The Pawtucket RBI club has a deep pitching staff, led by righties Souza (who went 2-0 in the Northeast Regional tourney), Mejia (1-0) and Otis (1-0), and lone southpaw Depatie (1-0).
“Now we’re going to nationals, and we need to win six straight games to win the title,” claimed Bergeron, the Boys & Girls Club’s Athletic Director for 10 years now. “I actually coached that team in 2006, the one that went to Nationals; it was my first year.
“These guys I think can go a long way, and it’s because they care about the game and each other.”
Should they win their first five contests, the PawSox will play in the national championship game at Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins.
“In all the years I’ve been playing or coaching in high school or in college, no matter what the sport, that was the most amazing, exciting, incredible comeback I’ve ever been a part of,” Bergeron explained of the win over Jersey City/Jackie Robinson. “No one who was there will ever forget it. I know I won’t, and I know the kids won’t, either.
“You know what Luke compared it to? The Red Sox-Yankees (American League) championship series in ’04. When he told me that, I just laughed. The more I think about it, he’s right.”