BRISTOL, Conn. — As soon as Little League New England Regional Tournament officials asked the Lincoln All-Stars to walk to home plate to greet “Dugout,” the event’s mascot, Aaron DeSousa knew what was coming
Together with foe Rye, N.H., they performed the dance accompanying the tune prior to their contest, and it looked like they had a blast doing it.
“I remember other teams doing that from years before, when I was watching on TV,” DeSousa said. “I kind of expected it once they called us over. While we were dancing, it took all the butterflies away. I just didn’t feel as nervous.”
He didn’t look it, either. In his first appearance in an All-Star tilt this summer, he scattered four hits (without a walk) and whiffed one through the first four frames as Lincoln coasted to a 9-1 victory over the Granite State champions at Breen Field on Wednesday afternoon.
He also produced at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a triple and a run scored.
As good as his outing was, others proved to contribute as well. Steve (“Big Country”) Andrews finished 2-for-3 with a three-run “tater” and two runs scored, while David Bordieri went 2-for-3 with an RBI and two runs; Blake Zaniol 1-for-2 with a two-bagger, a pair of walks, an RBI and two runs; Dominic Cunha 1-for-2, RBI; and Braedon Carney 1-for-1 with an RBI and run.
The superb collective effort not only helped Lincoln close the preliminary round with a 3-1 record, but also clinched for it a berth in the semifinals. Manager Matt Netto’s bunch, courtesy of the No. 3 seed, will face second-seeded South Burlington, Vt. (also 3-1) at 10 a.m. today.
Ironically, it will be the same club that gave the All-Stars their lone loss of the event. They suffered an 8-1 defeat on Monday – and looked rather anemic at the plate and in the field.
When asked his philosophy entering the game, Netto smiled, “Win. I mean, I don’t play any games to lose. Who does? We had a tough outing (Monday), and we needed to wake up and play well. We did just that.
“It feels great to be in this position,” he added. “We’re playing against the best competition in all of New England, and we won three of them. We’ve been together every second of every day, and we’re having a great time together, right, guys?”
He looked at DeSousa, Bordieri and Andrews, and they just chuckled.
Lincoln knew beforehand that it had earned a semifinal appearance; that’s one of the reasons he chose to start DeSousa, a strong-throwing righty.
“I found out (Tuesday); I hadn’t pitched all year, so I felt kind of relaxed about it,” DeSousa offered. “I wasn’t nervous but confident. I hadn’t pitched in a while because my arm was sore after playing AAU ball (with the Blackstone Valley Spinners).
“I had pitched for them, and it got sore because I wasn’t ready, and because it was cold (this past spring).
“I felt good; I thought my knuckle-curve was fooling a lot of batters,” he continued. “It was dropping, and they were swinging at a lot of pitches in the dirt. I also liked how my fastball was reacting.”
It was of Netto’s volition to get off to a strong start against Rye righthander Dylan King, and it did just that.
DeSousa led the first with a shot to the track in center, but Ray Hindle snared it for the first out. Bordieri then knocked a ground single off of third baseman. Calvin Kobylinski’s foot, reached second on Andrews’ bloop, opposite-field hit to left and moved to third after Kyle Marrapese walked.
That juiced the bags, and Bordieri raced in on a passed ball. Connor Benbenek’s groundout to short plated Andrews, and Zaniol’s rope double down the right-field line scored Marrapese.
After Cunha drew a base-on-balls, Carney drilled a hit to left to bring in Zaniol, and – suddenly – Lincoln had itself a 4-0 advantage.
“We did want to come out swinging, trying to see good pitches and make contact,” Netto explained. “We work very hard at being disciplined at the plate, and it showed in the first. From (our first hitter) through 13, everyone can hit, and this is how we normally play.
“When we faced South Burlington, maybe we were tired, I don’t know,” he added. “We left our heart at home, for whatever reason, but we showed plenty of heart here.”
The New Hampshire contingent, which finished its regional winless at 0-4, nevertheless mounted a mild threat in the back half.
Hindle beat out a bunt single and stole second, but DeSousa escaped the frame unscathed when Marty Gaughan Jr. made a nice sliding snag off Dylan Chase’s fly to right.
Rye was at it again in the second; Spencer Leger whacked a one out, ground single to left and took second when first baseman Cunha threw late to the bag. With brother Matt Leger safe at first, the two moved up on Kobylinski’s swinging bunt, but the hurler caught Willem Gerrish’s pop to end the inning.
The Rhode Islanders cushioned that lead with a pair in the third. Zaniol initiated the surge with a walk, and Cunha’s double down the right-field line scored him. Carney then walked, and King hit Gaughan with a delivery to fill the bases again.
DeSousa followed with a hard liner to short, but Mike Malila made an outstanding catch, then threw to third to catch Gaughan off-guard.
Bordieri, however, laced a hit to left to plate Carney from second.
Rye sliced the deficit to 6-1 in the bottom of the third, courtesy of a two-out flurry. King pounded a double that one-hopped the right-center fence, and scored on Chase’s single between short and third.
That’s when Benbenek caught Chase napping at second between pitches; his throw to Bordieri at second easily went for the last out.
Lincoln manufactured three insurance runs in the fifth, and they came with two down as well. DeSousa, who needed only 45 deliveries, crushed a triple down the right-field stripe and Bordieri walked before “Big Country” walloped Guerin’s first offering at least 240 feet over the right-field fence.
“It was a fastball right down the middle, and I was just thinking, ‘Swing!’” Andrews smiled shyly. “I thought it was going to hit the fence because it wasn’t that high. I’m just glad it went out.”
It was his ninth dinger in Lincoln’s 13 All-Star contests.
Andrews came on in relief of pal DeSousa in the fifth, and yielded just one hit (Hindle’s two-out double in that frame). He didn’t walk anyone, and struck out three.
All told, the two righties retired nine of Rye’s final 10 hitters.
“I had full confidence in Aaron,” Netto stated afterward. “I told him all year, ‘There’s going to be a time when I’m going to need you, so be ready,’ and he was. When we were trying to figure out who we were going to pitch (Wednesday), I didn’t have to think long. I knew he’d get the job done.
“He was workman-like out there, and he was economical with his pitches; it was beautiful,” he added. “I couldn’t have asked for anything more from him, or all of the others. This is what we are.
“I think now we’re the No. 3 seed, and we’re playing South Burlington. I know the boys want Vermont pretty bad, especially after what happened in our last game. It was an aberration. Now I think we’re back to playing vintage Lincoln baseball.”
Should Netto’s crew reign, it would face the victor of top-ranked Westport, Conn. or Maremont of Saco, Me. for the regional crown at 7 p.m., Saturday.