Fairfield American's Jamie Flink picked up where he left off pool play, blasting a homer over the left-field fence to spot the Connecticut state champions an early lead in Thursday afternoon's New England Little League semifinal.
The rest of the lineup was right behind him.
Fairfield American throttled Barnstable, Mass., 9-0 at Breen Field in Bristol with a 12-hit outburst to climb within one win of the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa., from Aug. 14-24.
"We've come a long way. It's been great," said shortstop Brian Howell, who had three hits in four at-bats, including a two-run homer in the third to cap the scoring.
The 12-year-old all-stars (16-2) tagged Massachusetts ace Wyatt Scotti for seven runs over the first two innings. Scotti, who tossed 4 1/3 scoreless frames in a pool-play win over Williston, Vt., on Monday, surrendered a homer to Flink -- the right fielder's team-leading 10th of the summer -- with one out in the first inning.
"We had a game plan going in," Fairfield American manager Mike Steed said. "We knew that Scotti was going to throw hard, and he did. But we also knew that he's always around the plate. ... We said, `He's going to be around the plate, just look for a pitch to drive. Look for a pitch to square up."
Fairfield American executed that plan with aplomb. Massachusetts didn't have an answer.
After a three-run first, in which nine batters came to the plate, Fairfield American tacked on four runs in the second. Jack Steed's single scored two, and one more raced home on a fielding error. PJ Egan followed with a hit to make it 7-0.
The win set up a rematch in Saturday's final (7 p.m. on ESPN) against Rhode Island. Cumberland American (11-1), which lost 5-3 to Fairfield in pool play on Tuesday on a Flink walk-off homer, used an offensive outburst of its own to advance. A nine-run eighth-inning sealed a 13-4 win over Falmouth, Maine, in Thursday's first semifinal at Breen Field.
Rhode Island manager David Belisle said, of the prospect of facing Fairfield: "If it's there, I'd love the challenge."
Now they're ensured of that challenge, thanks in part to Fairfield starter Sam Davenport. After a shaky first inning, in which Davenport walked two and threw a pair of wild pitches, the right-hander limited Massachusetts to three hits. Howell inherited a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the fifth and recorded a strike out.
"I was nervous," said Davenport, who struck out five and walked three in a 68-pitch outing. "I just went in there trying to throw strikes. We have a great team."
Davenport kept Massachusetts (15-5 overall, 2-3 New England regional) off balance, particularly with his curveball.
"Most of his first pitches were curveballs," Massachusetts manager Joe Burke said. "We were just chasing it. Read Full Article
"It's funny, when you think, you get to this high level and it's some guy (giving us trouble) that's going to be hitting 70 miles an hour. It's usually the curveball kids that end up getting you."
Davenport won't be available to pitch Saturday's final because of Little League pitch-count limitations, but Fairfield American will have plenty of other options on the mound. Egan, the team's leader in wins, sustained a bruised right hand after being hit by a pitch on Tuesday, but Steed expects Egan to be available.
"I think we'll be OK," Steed said.
With one more win, Fairfield American will be the fifth team in seven years from Fairfield County to reach the Little League World Series, joining Shelton National (2008), Fairfield American (2010 and 2012) and Westport (2013). But, with nothing guaranteed, the Little Leaguers are enjoying the ride.
"Rhode Island's a really good team," Howell said.
"It's going to be tough. We're just going to have to work hard," he said.
New England Regional semifinals
At Breen Field, Bristol
Fairfield American 9, Massachusetts 0
MASSACHUSETTS 000 000 -- 0 5 2
FAIRFIELD AMERICAN 342 00X -- 9 12 0
Records: Massachusetts 15-5 overall, 2-3 New England regional; Fairfield American 16-2, 4-1 New England.
Batteries: M--Wyatt Scotti (L), Nick Wilson (5) and Jack Scipione. FA--Sam Davenport (W), Brian Howell (5) and Vince Camera.