PORTSMOUTH — Manager Bob Yates knew his team couldn’t play the same game against Cranston West after getting shellacked 14-4 in an earlier round of the state tournament for 9- 10-year-old Little League All Stars. The Cranston team took advantage of too many fastballs sent screaming out of the infield.
When Portsmouth’s District 2 winners got another crack at the team Saturday in the championship round at Warwick Continental Fields, they had a different strategy.
“We were looking to mix it up and that’s what we did. We threw them curve balls, change-ups to start them off so they wouldn’t see the same pitch twice,” said Mr. Yates.
The strategy didn’t pay off right away, as Portsmouth found itself down 4-0 early in Saturday’s game. If Cranston West won, the team would be crowned state champions. A Portsmouth win would force a second game for the title Sunday night.
Then, some might say, fate intervened.
“Our starting pitcher, Connor Freitas, got hit by a line drive in the second inning,” said Mr. Yates, adding that Connor suffered bruising and had to leave the game with runners on base. The ball that hit him, however, deflected off the pitcher and was caught by the shortstop. When Justin Parsons came in to relieve Connor, the team appealed to third base.
“We got the put-out at third,” said Mr. Yates, adding that Cranston West didn’t like the call.
“That got us out of the inning and our boys started coming back,” said Mr. Yates, whose team chipped away at the lead and ended up winning 9-7.
Justin went four innings and got the win. Simon Roy had two hits and three RBIs and Tom McGuire and Ben McGowan each had one hit and two RBIs. Robbie Yates had three hits.
For the do-or-die game Sunday, Portsmouth again found themselves in a familiar situation early on.
“We were trailing again, 6-0,” said Mr. Yates.
After two innings, starter Brewster Mott was already at 47 pitches and a two-run homer by Cranston West’s catcher and some misplays in the field had him frustrated, the manager said. The pitcher was throwing too hard and shaking off calls for curve balls and change-ups, he said.
But Brewster settled down after a talk with Mr. Yates and started pitching much more efficiently.
“We had a four-pitch and an eight-pitch inning,” said Mr. Yates, noting that Portsmouth was cruising along while Cranston West’s batters were impatient with the pitch selection.
Call changes momentum
In the fourth inning, Portsmouth tied up the game, 6-6. Then the fireworks began.
“We’re in the top of the fifth inning and the (Cranston West) catcher who hit the first home run hits another one. He goes around the bases and I get word from the boys that he failed to step on first base,” said Mr. Yates.
Portsmouth appealed to first base and the umpire called the player out. Although there was an uproar from Cranston West’s coaching staff and parents, Portsmouth’s manager said the rules are clear.
“It was the right call,” said Mr. Yates, adding, “We’re back to 6-6. It was a momentum-changer. The kids were jumping up and down.”
In the bottom of the fifth, Simon Roy batted in the go-ahead run, scoring Connor Freitas.
Brewster came back out for the sixth and got the first two outs before reaching his pitch limit. “He was one out away from completing the game,” said Mr. Yates.
Will Pierce came to the mound — “That was a pressure cooker,” the manager said — and induced a grounder to first to end it.
After losing by 10 runs earlier in the week to Cranston West, beating that powerhouse in back-to-back games may have seemed like an insurmountable task. But Mr. Yates said his boys refused to raise the white flag.
“They never gave up and they kept pitching change-ups and curve balls; we moved it around,” said Mr. Yates. “The umpire had a tight strike zone, which I think benefited us because our boys can hit in a tight zone.”
Besides Simon Roy’s game-winning RBI, Tim McGuire had three hits and two RBIs and Robbie Yates and Brewster Mott each had two hits and an RBI.
Now it’s on to the New England regionals that will be held — ironically — in Cranston West’s backyard. Portsmouth plays its first game against Massachusetts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3, at the John Chafee Athletic Complex on Hope Road, Cranston.
Portsmouth will then face Vermont on Monday, Aug. 5; Maine on Wednesday, Aug. 7; and New Hampshire on Thursday, Aug. 8.