BRISTOL -- It's no secret that the road to the Little League World Series is arduous, especially when the competition ramps up in regional play. So, Fairfield American manager Mike Steed wanted his players to stick to a simple goal during their week in Bristol.
"We want to have fun," Steed said following a 9-0 rout of Barnstable, Mass., in Thursday's New England Regional semifinal. "Our objective here all week was to leave the tournament in fun. They're great kids, they get along great.
"There will be a lot of ice cream, swimming pool. We'll mix in some practice here and there. We have our routine."
With one more win, that routine will ensure the Little Leaguers a trip to South Williamsport, Pa.
The final hurdle for Fairfield American (16-2) will come Saturday against Cumberland, R.I., at 7 p.m. in a game televised nationally by ESPN. The thought of playing on TV is enough to excite the group of 12-year-olds, including second baseman Jack Steed.
"We always wake up and watch SportsCenter," Steed said. "To be on one of the biggest sports channels in the world, it's amazing."
Additional appearances on ESPN will follow if the Little Leaguers are fortunate enough to reach the LLWS. Four teams from Fairfield County -- Shelton National in 2008, Fairfield American in 2010 and 2012 and Westport in 2013 -- have been lucky enough to do so recently.
"We've come a long way. It's been great," said Brian Howell, who's split time at shortstop and on the mound in Bristol. "Rhode Island's a really good team. It's going to be tough. We're just going to have to work hard."
Fairfield American has already beaten Rhode Island once this week, albeit narrowly. Jamie Flink's walk-off, two-run homer vaulted the Connecticut state champs to a 5-3 victory on Tuesday.
Steed expects ace PJ Egan to return to the mound for the rematch. Egan allowed only one run in three innings Tuesday, but the right-hander was struck on his pitching hand while batting later in the pool-play win.
"His finger's been a little sore," Steed said of Egan, who played left field on Thursday and went 1-for-3 with one RBI. "I think he'll be recovered by then. It's still tender when he takes swings."
With help from Egan, Fairfield American's hurlers have logged a 1.86 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 29 innings at the regional. Only right-hander Sam Davenport, who shut out Massachusetts over 4 2/3 innings (68 pitches), will be unavailable Saturday due to Little League pitch-count rules.
The bats have been just as impressive at the regional, compiling a .386 average and 35 runs in five games.
"It feels amazing," said Jack Steed, who's posted a team-leading .571 batting average in Bristol. "We've come a long way." Read Full Article
So has Cumberland American, which is appearing in the New England final for the first time since 2011. That squad -- led by current Rhode Island manager David Belisle -- beat Fairfield American in the semifinals and Andover, Mass., for the title.
After Rhode Island beat Falmouth, Maine, in Thursday's first semifinal, Belisle knew that a rematch with Fairfield American in the final was a strong possibility. He wasn't pulling for those odds though, one way or the other.
"You don't wish who you want to play," Belisle said. "Whoever shows up, you know it's going to be a great game."
New England Little League final
No. 1 Fairfield American (16-2) vs. No. 2 Cumberland, R.I. (11-1)
WHEN: Saturday, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Breen Field, Bristol
LAST MEETING: Fairfield won 5-3 in pool play on Tuesday
WHAT'S AT STAKE: Winner advances to represent New England at the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa.
Fairfield American at a glance
HOW THEY GOT HERE: 3-1 in pool play; defeated Barnstable, Mass., 9-0 in semifinals.
LAST FINALS APPEARANCE: 2012, defeated Bedford, N.H., 14-0 in 6 innings.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: OF/P Jamie Flink (.467, 2 HR, 4 RBIs in New England Regional); P/OF PJ Egan (1-0, 3.17 ERA, 5 strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings); SS/P Brian Howell (.471, 1 HR, RBIs; 0.00 ERA, 10 strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings); C Vince Camera (.500, 7 RBIs); 2B Jack Steed (.571, 7 RBIs).
Rhode Island at a glance
HOW THEY GOT HERE: 3-1 in pool play; defeated Falmouth, Maine, 13-4 in 8 innings in semifinals.
LAST FINALS APPEARANCE: 2011, defeated Andover, Mass., 13-7.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: 3B/P Addison Kopack (.500, 3 HR, 13 RBIs in New England Regional), 1B Jayden Struble (.588, 1 HR, 7 RBIs); C Trey Bourque (.438, 1 HR, 9 RBIs), OF Tyler Provost (.385, 6 RBIs, 6 runs scored); P/SS Nick Croteau (2-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 save, 12 strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings).