BRISTOL, Conn. – It had been billed as a sensational pitcher’s duel – South Burlington, Vt. fireballer Ben Tate against Lincoln’s crafty southpaw Kyle Marrapese.
The pair didn’t disappoint, as they combined to whiff – get this – 19 foes.
In the end, however, Marrapese captured the battle, and it happened due to one precious, hellacious swing from teammate Steve Andrews.
It was the tall, husky kid nicknamed “Big Country” (he stands six feet tall and weighs at least 185) who crushed a three-run homer over the centerfield scoreboard with two down in the fifth inning to clinch for Lincoln a stunning, come-from-behind 5-2 victory over the Vermonters in a Little League New England Regional Tournament semifinal on Thursday morning.
With the clout, one that brought immediate roars from the enthusiastic Lincoln crowd sitting (or standing nervously) in the Breen Field bleachers down the third-base line, skipper Matt Netto and Co. sealed a spot in the championship final.
They will face Westport, Conn. (3-0 victor over Saco, Me.) at 7 p.m., Saturday for the right to trek to the World Series.
“It went at least 280-290 feet,” Netto grinned of Andrews’ bash, his 10th of the season. “(Folks) had said it bounced at the edge of the trees (far beyond the scoreboard). What a rip! Remember, this is when all the pressure is on. It was a very, very low pitch, and he just golfed it out.
“We showed a lot of heart (Thursday),” he continued. “We’ve told the kids the last three days we needed to shot it more, and that’s one of the gutsiest games I’ve ever seen.”
The dinger moreorless overshadowed the masterpiece Marrapese had hurled. He lasted 5 1/3 frames, yielding just five hits and a walk while fanning 12 before reaching the 85-pitch threshold. (He closed with 87, and righty reliever Zarek Larisa replaced him).
Tate, who took the loss, went 4 2/3 before hurling his 87th; all told, he allowed four hits, three runs (all earned) and two walks with seven strikeouts.
Actually, the triumph came to be as Lincoln’s patient lineup made Tate’s pitch count rise rapidly. He had whiffed Larisa to open the top of the fifth, but Patrick Gribbin reached on a bunt single, and Tate walked Aaron DeSousa before getting David Bordieri to pop to the hill.
That’s when the righthander had tossed his 87th, and South Burlington manager Sean McGrath opted to move to Matt Guyette.
On his first pitch – and the Vermont state champs still ahead, 2-1 – Andrews swung mightily and drove a shot that continued to rise upon clearing the mammoth board in center. (It caused those in the press box either to gasp or chuckle at the extreme power).
The wallop, he admitted, was reminiscent of the one he clubbed high off the left, back Lonsdale Elementary School wall facing Randy Hien Field’s plate during a district win over Smithfield over a month ago.
“I was just thinking I had to get on him right away,” offered the soft-spoken Andrews. “When I hit it, I was, like, ‘Good, we’ve got the lead.’”
When asked which homer felt better physically, he said, “The one that hit the school, that felt more solid, but obviously this one means more.”
Lincoln added an insurance run in the sixth when Tyler Santilli knocked a bloop hit to right-center, moved to second on a wild pitch, raced to third on Nate Kumar’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Braedon Carney’s deep sacrifice fly to right.
As stated, the tilt began as a pitcher’s duel, and South Burlington got to Marrapese first.
In the bottom of the initial frame, leadoff batter Max Plunkett poked a ground single to shallow right, and took second on a passed ball. With one down, Chance O’Connor roped a double to the right-center hole to plate him, but was caught in a pickle. Following an entertaining back-and-forth rundown, one that included at least six Lincoln players, second baseman Blake Zaniol applied the tag.
On the very first offering of the second, Sammy Premsagar drilled an opposite-field homer to right, and Vermont held a 2-0 advantage. Still, Marrapese struck out the side, and only got stronger as time passed.
The lefty faced 16 hitters after that “tater” and whiffed. In the process, he surrendered only two singles, both grounders.
“It got him mad,” Netto smiled, referencing the blast. “Kyle doesn’t like to get beaten. He’s like a boxer. You get punched, you punch right back.
“I never have a doubt when I give the ball to Kyle,” he continued. “I knew he’d go the distance, or most of it anyway. He just knows how to pitch. The kid is so reliable.”
Stated Marrapese: “I didn’t know (I was striking out so many). I just kept pitching; I wasn’t thinking about anything else. I was just taking it one batter at a time.”
In the interim, Tate was sailing. He allowed just a walk to Connor Benbenek in the second (while striking out a trio) before yielding Aaron DeSousa a lined hit to center with two down in the third. The superb hurler, though, got Bordieri to ground to second.
“With (Tate), he rarely throws a curveball, so we told the kids to sit on his fastball, and if it’s out of the zone, take it,” Netto claimed. “We were working on his pitch count. We’ve done it multiple times this year. We were very disciplined at the plate.
“Through the first three, we weren’t swinging at great pitches; we were hitting it, but not solidly,” he added. “Once we got more patient, we saw one we could hit (with authority). The plan worked just to our liking.”
Not surprisingly, Andrews started the fourth with a hard, opposite-field double down the line in left, then took third on Benbenek’s groundout to short and scored on Zaniol’s soft hit to center. That sliced the deficit to 2-1.
“Once the other pitcher (Guyette) came in, I told the guys that he doesn’t pitch as hard as Tate; he threw different speeds, so we were going from facing a kid who throws 70-71 (mph) to 58-60. I asked them to move up on the plate and, if they saw something in the zone, go for it.”
After Marrapese reached his limit, Larisa went to the mound with one out in the sixth and immediately forced clean-up Ethan Klesch to line to Andrews at first. He did walk Premsagar, in part to his strength with the bat. Premsagar then hustled to second on a wild offering.
With Tate in the box, Larisa needed just three pitches to clinch the victory. Appropriately, Marrapese caught his lazy fly in center.
“That was the greatest moment of my life,” he laughed. “I knew then we had a chance to go to Williamsport. We left it all out on the field, just like Coach asked us.”