CHARIHO — The journey ended far earlier than anyone associated with the Chariho Major Division all-star team would’ve hoped.
Chariho, which came out of the losers’ bracket last year to claim the District 3 title on its way to the 11-year-old state title, entered the Major Division tournament as the favorite, but the kids from Dow Field were knocked into the losers’ bracket by eventual District 3 champion Coventry American.
The team’s journey came to an end Friday night at Dow Field thanks to Coventry National right-hand pitcher Griffin Pilla. Chariho, which scored at least 12 runs in its first three games, were held to just three runs, while Coventry National took advantage of Chariho’s bullpen to score four runs in the sixth inning of an 8-3 losers’ bracket final win.
‘When we look back at this run, we look back three years,” Chariho coach Steve Parente said. “We’ve had pretty much the same group of kids all the way through. I think we were 16-6 over the last three years, so what they accomplished was better and better every year.
“I know a lot of teams win the 11-year-old states and come back next year and win it. A lot of these teams got better and we knew it was going to be a tough road.”
Chariho’s tournament run looked to be in trouble heading into the bottom of the fifth inning with the home side trailing by three runs against the dominant Pilla, who’d only allowed three hits through the first four innings.
Grant Vargo-Willeford, who’d accounted for his team’s only run when he hit a solo home run in the third inning, led off the fifth inning with a double. After Pilla set down the next two batters lead-off hitter Jordan Kelvington hit an opposite-field home run off the high right-field fence to cut National’s lead to 4-3.
“We had opportunities to score against them, we just didn’t pick it up,” Parente said. “I honestly am thinking we were going to win this game if we hold them in the sixth inning.”
But Chariho didn’t hold Coventry National off the scoreboard in the sixth inning because the visitors, just like Coventry American did earlier in the week, took advantage of Chariho’s bullpen.
Vargo-Willeford replaced Ethan Blanchard to start the sixth inning and had trouble finding the strike zone. Mike Swanholm and Loren Vaughn walked before an error to load the bases for Cam Toussaint, who walked in a run. After Pilla walked to score another run, Will Boudreau replaced Vargo-Willeford.
Boudreau walked Troy Osterhout and Devon White to plate two more runs and round out the scoring in the inning.
Unlike the first three games where Chariho jumped out to big leads, the home side fell behind early and never could recover. After Toussaint reached first following a dropped third strike in the first inning, Pilla launched a two-run home run.
Jake Organ hit a solo home run in the second to increase the lead to 3-0. Chariho, which thrived on coming from behind last year, simply ran out of gas Friday night.
“We were chasing the whole game, but last year we kind of thrived in that environment,” Parente said. “It took us a little while to get our engines going. We had a couple of base-running mistakes and a couple of them were on me. I think we were all pressing at the end.”
Chariho’s best chance to get back into the game came in the third after Vargo-Willeford’s homer. Matt Dickerman walked, but was picked off by White. Andrew DiFormato followed with a single and Matt Elson also reached base, but Cam Anderson and Dylan LaBelle both lined out to end the inning.
Kelvington’s fifth-inning home run delivered a ray of hope for the 2012 11-year-old state champions, but Chariho’s dream of reaching Bristol, Conn. ended an inning later.
“I just think they’re a great group of kids and that’s going to stay with me,” Parente said. “It’s been my honor to be with them and coach them. It was great being there for their highs and helping them through their lows. It was great experience and I hope it was for them because it was for me.”