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Tuesday, March 20 Sports

Fairfield American LL primed to take another step forward

BRISTOL -- Given recent history, forgive the Fairfield American Little League all-stars if they were a bit surprised, if not shaken up, about what happened Sunday evening at Breen Field.

After opening the New England Regional with a pair of comfortable wins, the Connecticut state champs were tripped up in their third pool play game. A 4-2 loss to Goffstown, N.H., was just Fairfield American's second loss of the summer and, even more noteworthy, the program's first defeat in its last eight games in Bristol at the 12-year-old level.

"We were really upset about it," right fielder Jamie Flink said Tuesday. "It was hard to hide."

As much as the loss bothered the Little Leaguers, they didn't carry any negative feelings into the last of their four pool play games. Thanks to Flink's ninth homer of the summer -- a two-run shot to left-center that cleared the 225-foot mark by inches -- Fairfield American walked off on Tuesday with a 5-3 win over Cumberland, R.I.

As Flink touched home plate, where he was mobbed by his teammates, Fairfield American celebrated not only a dramatic win, but the continuation of a dream summer. The next step for the all-stars comes in Thursday's semifinals, as the top seed against No. 4 Barnstable, Mass., at Breen Field (3 p.m.).

More Information

New England Regional semifinals
No. 1 Fairfield American (3-1 in pool play, 15-2 overall) vs. No. 4 Barnstable, Mass., (2-2, 15-4)
WHEN: Thursday, 3 p.m.
WHERE: Breen Field, Bristol
LAST MEETING: Did not play in pool play
UP NEXT: Winner advances to play Cumberland, R.I.-Falmouth, Maine winner Saturday at 7 p.m. (ESPN). New England champ advances to World Series in South Williamsport, Pa.

Fairfield at a glance
Regional results: Def. Williston, Vt., 9-4; Def. Falmouth, Maine, 10-0 (5 innings); Lost to Goffstown, N.H., 4-2; Def. Cumberland, R.I., 5-3.
Players to watch: OF/P Jamie Flink (.417, 1 HR, 3 RBIs at regional), 2B/P Jack Steed (.545, 4 RBIs), C Vince Camera (.545, 7 RBIs), P/OF PJ Egan (1-0, 3.17 ERA in 5.2 innings), P/3B Sam Davenport (0-1, 3.85 ERA in 4.2 innings).
Massachusetts at a glance
Regional results: Lost to Cumberland, R.I., 25-5 (4 innings); Def. Williston, Vt., 7-2; Lost to Falmouth, Maine, 9-4; Def. Goffstown, N.H., 8-2.
Players to watch: Wyatt Scotti (.357, 5 runs scored; 1-0, 0.00 ERA in 4.1 innings at regional), Colby Burke (.273, 1 HR, 4 RBIs), Bennett Teceno (.500, 5 runs).

"Our strategy, our plan, coming into this tournament was to play well and to play on Thursday," Fairfield American manager Mike Steed said.

With a ticket to Thursday, the Little Leaguers now sit two wins shy of an even greater goal. The all-stars have a chance to become 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).

The Little Leaguers first must defeat Massachusetts (2-2), which advanced with an 8-2 win over New Hampshire on Wednesday. Rhode Island (3-1) will face Falmouth, Maine (2-2) in Thursday's first semifinal at noon.

Fairfield American will have most, if not all its pitching available after ace PJ Egan, Brian Howell and Ian Bentley appeared against Cumberland American. The three hurlers combined to limit Rhode Island's red-hot lineup, which outscored its first two pool-play opponents 35-5, to six hits. Bentley earned the win with 1 2/3 scoreless innings of relief.

The only uncertainty surrounds Egan, who was struck in his right pitching hand by a pitch against Rhode Island. Steed said Wednesday that Egan's hand is bruised.

"What we wanted to do in this game was try and manage our pitching," Steed said on Tuesday. "That's crucial going into the next two games."

Fairfield American is looking to take a path similar to the 2010 squad, which went 3-1 in New England pool play and won both the single-elimination semifinals and final. The 2012 LLWS team from Fairfield went 6-0 in Bristol, as did Westport last summer.

This year's all-stars knew that one loss in pool play wasn't going to spell the end of their summer.

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"The team had some difficult moments after our loss the other day," Steed said. "We needed to talk to the kids and let them understand, `One loss is OK.' It was a 4-2 game, a great ballgame.

"New Hampshire played unbelievably well. We're going to tip our hats to them. We'll have our moments."

The Little Leaguers took that message to heart.

"We were just trying to tell everybody that we shouldn't dwell on what just happened," said Flink, who's batting .417 in the regional.

dbonjour@ctpost.com; twitter.com/DougBonjour