Rays, Red Sox win Little League titles
Photo by Gail Daman
The Red Sox won the Major Little League championship on Saturday afternoon with shutdown pitching and patient bats en route to an 8-2 over the Tigers.
Earlier in the day, the Rays, a regular-season juggernaut, needed a walk-off single by pitcher Jason Kurth in the bottom of the sixth inning of a see-saw game to beat the Twins by an 11-10 margin in the Minor championship game.
Minor league final
The final regular season standings indicated that the Red Sox (16-2) and Tigers (15-2) would provide the tightest contest on Saturday, but the minor league leading Rays, who lost just once in the regular season (13-1-1), and the Twins (9-4-3) kept a crowd of 250 nervous family and friends breathless as the youngsters swapped the lead several times.
The home team Rays scored four in the fifth to take a two-run lead, 10-8, after the Twins had twice taken the lead in the earlier innings. The Rays secured the championship when Elijah Dunn-Finer crossed the plate on Kurth's sharply hit single to left center field.
The Rays started quickly, Kurth retiring the first three batters efficiently, two via strikeout and the third on a pop out to him. In the bottom of the inning, the Rays took a 4-0 lead with walks and timely hitting by Hunter Meader (three-run double) and Kurth's run-scoring single.
The Twins crept back, scoring two in the second, one by feisty Twins catcher Nico Arroyo who scored after only his second walk of the season. reported ecstatic coach. "Nico doesn't like to walk," George Hearn, his ecstatic coach, said.
The Twins scored three more in the the third and looked like they might escape trouble in the Rays half when third basemen Braedyn Clark snatched a sky-high pop-up out of the sun. But Emily Mello ripped a two-run single to put the Rays back on top, 6-4.
The two teams counter-punched for the next two innings. The Twins erased a brief Rays lead to tie the score at 10-10 in the top of the sixth, setting the stage for the Rays' heroics in the bottom of the inning.
"It was an incredible amount of fun," first-year head coach Rick Mello said. "I looked forward to practice and games. The kids got better as the season went on, and the wins piled up. And there we were playing for the championship. Closest game of the year. Couldn't ask for anything more."
Major league championship
The afternoon contest between the Red Sox and Tigers showed the impact that a two-year growth spurt and a couple of extra years of coaching can have on the quality of play. While the mostly nine and 10-year old minor leaguers didn't threaten the sponsor signage around the field, the major leaguers did.
The Tigers leading hitter, Ryan Scanlon, picked the championship game to hit the first bomb of his career over the left-centerfield fence, off Red Sox starter Willson Slayton, who returned the favor in the bottom of the first, hitting a two-run shot over the right centerfield fence to give the Red Sox a 2-1 advantage.
Starting pitchers Slayton and Mike Habekost of the Tigers settled down and the score stayed knotted at two each through the third thanks to defensive gems on both sides, including two picks by Tigers shortstop Mike Sidori.
The fan base, while smaller than at the minor league game, was involved and knowledgeable. "You know, it's good to see the Red Sox get to this game. They struggled at the (league) bottom for several years and now they're playing for the championship," said one dad.
The Red Sox pushed a run in to lead 3-2 after three. They scored twice more in the fourth and three times in the fifth for an 8-2 advantage they would not relinquish. Twins hitters reached base but defensive plays like a tumbling catch by Red Sox center fielder on Baylee Francis's fly ball in the fifth kept the Tigers of the board. In the Tigers' sixth, Aidan Smith wheedled a walk off relief pitcher Jake Howell. But two ground ball outs and a game-ending strikeout by Howell ended the threat and a mound of jubilant Red Sox players quickly grew and then joyfully collapsed in the middle of the infield.
This is not your father's Little League. All players who participated in the championship games received similar trophies. Parents and coaches were supportive. Close plays that might have required police presence in another time and place were resolved quickly and quietly.
Some things remain unchanged. Little League remains the same early bonding experience. The most world-weary among us remembers teammates and the team. Former Tiger Tad Gold, now a junior at Endicott College and a member of the Sharks amateur collegiate team here, showed up as a bench coach for his former Little League team.
Asked about the civilized demeanor at the games, umpire-in-chief Larry Johnson, a seasoned baseball guy who worked both games, thought a moment. "I think, here on the Island, Little League is a game for kids that are run by gentlemen."
Martha's Vineyard Little League (MVLL) is a busy operation, providing structure and play for about 375 boys and girls a year on 26 teams from tee-ball to Babe Ruth (age 13-15) baseball. The volunteer group does double duty, coaching a team as Red Sox coach and league president Lorne Lewis does, makes sure that equipment, including 1,200 baseballs a year are in place, as vice president Adam Resnick does or watches over the construction of Penn field (behind the Oak Bluffs water tower) which the league expects to be operative in Spring 2014. Others, like board member Johnson, umpire games, typically not the most fun job on the planet.
Today, fund-raising is everyone's job at MVLL as the group cobbles together state Consveration Preservation funds, donations and fundraising efforts to build a field of dreams for their kids.