Fairfield Americans' potent offense met its match last last Sunday night in the New England Little League regional in Bristol.
Two New Hampshire pitchers limited Fairfield to single runs each in the fourth and fifth innings, with Fairfield having opportunities to add more runs during both rallies.
One sharp defensive play by a Goffstown Junior Baseball player during each of the Americans' threats also was pivotal in Fairfield losing 4-2 at Breen Field.
Connor O'Connell, who went 3-for-4, smacked a three-run homer in the top of the fourth inning. Starting pitcher Derek Steckowych had a one-hitter through three innings, and reliever Connor Hujsak struck out three Fairfield batters while pitching the last two innings. In the sixth, Hujsak struck out the last two Americans' batters with the tying runs on base.
The Americans (2-1) dropped into second place among the six New England teams after losing for the first time in seven games. Fairfield (14-2 overall) played first-place Rhode Island (1-0) on Tuesday afternoon to finish pool play. The semifinals were scheduled for Thursday.
New Hampshire manager Mark Campbell praised Steckowych and Hujsak, but said the fielding gems shaped the outcome just as much.
After Vince Camera's single drove in Jamie Flink with one out in the fourth inning to cut New Hampshire's lead to 4-1, Ian Bentley (2-for-3) reached on an infield hit. Third baseman Myles Green quickly threw instead to second baseman TJ Dutton, whose tag got Camera, barely straying off the bag.
"That was a huge piece right there," Campbell said. "Myles bobbled it (at third) but he made an alert play and TJ was right there (for the tag). That got them off second base and got us an out."
In the bottom of the fifth inning, after Jack Steed's fielder's choice allowed PJ Egan to race in from third for the Americans' second run, it was time for New Hampshire's outfield defense to shine.
With runners on first and second and two outs, Brian Howell launched a towering drive deep to right field. New Hampshire right fielder Liam Kilbreth snagged it on the warning track while battling the lights.
"That was huge," Campbell said. "If he doesn't make that catch there, two runs score and he (Howell) is on second or third base. That was a monster play."
The Americans' fielders, as almost always, helped starting pitcher Sam Davenport and relievers Bentley and Howell, who combined to give up six hits. Fairfield's seven hits came in the last four innings.
Fairfield manager Michael Steed was unavailable for comment.
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New England Little League regional pool play
New Hampshire 4, Fairfield American 2
NEW HAMPSHIRE 010 300--4 6 0
FAIRFIELD AMERICAN 000 110--2 7 0
Records: New Hampshire 8-1, 1-1 New England; Fairfield American 14-2, 2-1.
Batteries: M--Derek Steckowych, Connor Hujsak (5) and Conor O'Connell; FA--Sam Davenport, Ian Bentley (4), Brian Howell (5) and Vince Camera.