COVENTRY — Strong pitching and solid defense were the two reasons the Wickford and Coventry American 10/11-year-old all-stars reached Sunday’s District 3 winners’ bracket final.
Wickford, after an ugly first inning where two hits, a walk and an error allowed American to open the scoring, continued to pitch and defend well.
Coventry American, which played a brilliant game in the winners’ bracket semifinals against Chariho, couldn’t replicate that effort Sunday. Starting pitcher Vinny Andriote struggled with his command in the opening inning and he was victimized by two errors as Wickford scored nine runs in the first inning on its way to a 14-4 mercy-rule win over last year’s 10-year-old district champions.
“This was just outstanding,” Wickford coach Joe Walsh said after his team improved to 3-0 in the tournament. “Our team is based on pitching and defense and to have the bats totally wake up in that first inning was great.”
“I know Wickford is a really good team and I’ve heard a lot of good things about them,” Coventry American coach Mike Houlihan said. “We were expecting everything we saw. They hit the ball well. I have no issues losing like that. We’re not going to win games if we make errors like that.”
Wickford, which received a solid start from righty Cameron Lindberg, will now host the team that survives the losers’ bracket Friday night at Wilson Park. Walsh said his team, after a pool party Sunday, will take Monday off before preparing for a chance to claim the District 3 title.
“We’re very excited about the position we’re in,” Walsh said. “To win this tournament would be great. Coventry’s an awesome team and they’re the toughest competition when we come here to play. I have a lot of respect for them, but today we came with all the facets.”
Coventry American’s journey to the District 3 title is much murkier. American will play Wednesday night in the losers’ bracket final looking for a second chance at Wickford. Houlihan will have all of his pitchers available to start, including Andriote, Nick Fuentes and Josh Dearden.
“We can win,” Houlihan said. “We’ll work on a couple of things in practice that we didn’t do too well today and come back and win on Wednesday. Hopefully we’ll see these guys again on Friday.”
Houlihan’s squad jumped on top of its first two opponents early in the game and that was the case again Sunday when Fuentes (error), Andriote (single) and Marcus Lemme (single) loaded the bases for Brady McNamara.
The 10-year-old drew a four-pitch walk to score Fuentes, but American left the bases loaded.
Wickford tied the game on the third pitch of the first inning when Nick Sacchetti hit the first home run of his Little League career.
That was just the beginning for Wickford because the visiting squad loaded the bases before Meghan Gormley walked to put Wickford ahead. Wickford followed with a bases-clearing triple to make the score 5-2 before an infield error allowed another run to score.
“After the game I told them they are 10- and 11-year-old kids and they just need to enjoy the game,” Houlihan said.
“I just want them to hold their heads up high because we’re facing the best of the best. I’m not going to dwell on the errors because they don’t want to make errors.”
Lindberg later added a two-run single and Brett Maloney hit an RBI single to make the score 9-1.
American tried to make a game of it in the second inning when second baseman Alex Guindon belted a three-run home run. Pinch runner Jacob Budzyna and Josh Bricker also scored on the play.
Lindberg only allowed one more hit over his final three innings of work and that hit – a single by Lemme – was erased by a double play in the third inning. Lindberg struck out seven batters in just four innings.
“Cam’s just a solid pitcher,” Walsh said. “He goes out and is a strike machine. He has a second pitch and a third pitch, too, but he was going out there and throwing the fastball and making them hit it. After three-run homer it was pretty tremendous the way he settled down.”
Wickford scored one run in the second inning and, thanks to three more American errors in the third, Wickford scored four more runs. Mason Walsh, Lindberg, Maloney and Brendon Kearns scored in the inning.