BRISTOL, Conn. — Back on Monday afternoon, the Lincoln All-Stars suffered their first and only defeat of this long summer, an 8-1 decision to South Burlington, Vt., and they didn’t look good doing it.
The previously-unbeaten squad uncharacteristically struck out seven times and committed a pair of errors in the ugly 8-1 defeat, causing parents and others to state to skipper Matt Netto that the team appeared downtrodden, like they didn’t care about being in their lofty position.
“We had a long talk that night while the kids were in their bunks; it was about 10:15 (p.m.), and we talked about who and what we were playing for,” Netto indicated. “I told them about all the blood, sweat and tears we had shed for this game.
“I mentioned some of the comments people had made, they seemed lackadaisical, like they didn’t want it, so I challenged them,” he added. “I told them about a very dear friend of mine, Jason Abraham (who died tragically at age 18), a kid I (once) played against in Lincoln Little League. I talked to them about how your friends will always be there for you, and you should be there for them.
“I also said that moments like these, you’ll remember them for the rest of your life, and you want to remember it as being there for your friends. I said they needed to support them, and this is the time to do that. I told them I coach for Jay.”
First baseman/left fielder Steve Andrews went to sleep that night pondering his mentor’s statements – that they needed to play with emotion and passion, and it more than showed in a Little League New England Regional Tournament semifinal on Thursday morning.
Trailing 2-1 in the top half of the fifth inning, Andrews bashed a three-run blast over the scoreboard in straightaway center field to ignite Lincoln’s beyond-thrilling 5-2 triumph over this same South Burlington squad at Breen Field.
“It was pretty emotional,” Andrews stated softly after the contest, one that pushed the All-Stars to within one victory of a trip to Williamsport. “I didn’t know who Jason Abraham was, but – the more he talked about him – I decided to play for him, too. After all, Matt coaches for Jay, and I play for Matt, so I thought that was what I should do.”
Zarek Larisa, who earned the save for eventual winning pitcher Kyle Marrapese, described further how the soliloquies (Netto did the same Wednesday night) affected him. He mentioned Cory Burke, a King Philip Little League player (of Bristol, R.I.) who has been diagnosed with bone cancer, and was honored for his fight, not to mention presence, at the state tourney held in Cranston.
“I thought about him, and how badly he wanted to play this year but couldn’t,” Larisa said. “I know he affected his (All-Star) team, that they wanted to win the states for him, just like Coach did for Jay. I figured, ‘Coach’s friend sounds like Cory,’ so I wanted to play harder.”
Offered Marrapese: “It affected us a lot. Coach wanted us to play with emotion, with passion, to get more enthusiastic when we do something good. I wanted to do that for him, and also all of my teammates.”
Netto also preached after that crushing blow on Monday his kids could overcome.
“I wanted them to play not just for themselves but their parents, their brothers and sisters, all their friends, the town of Lincoln, everyone who they loved,” he stated. “We talked about being a family, but we talked about that a long time ago, too.
“This game was all about enthusiasm and spirit,” he added. “I couldn’t be prouder of these kids. They responded right when they needed to.”
The locals still have one major hurdle remaining. Come Saturday night, Lincoln will square off against undefeated and top seed Westport, Conn. The game can be seen on ESPN beginning at 7 o’clock.