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Thursday, April 26 Sports

Fairfield American loses in New England Regional final

BRISTOL -- The Fairfield American Little League All-Stars marched to the final of the New England Regional by relying on starting and relief pitching, consistent fielding and a deep core of potent batters. Not all of those components were at their best in the championship game Saturday night at Breen Field under the glare of the national spotlight of an ESPN telecast.

Cumberland American of Rhode Island, which lost to the Connecticut champions in pool play four days earlier, capitalized on rare breaches in Fairfield's game to rally for five runs in the fourth inning as it qualified for the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa., with a 10-6 victory.

Fairfield, which finished with a 16-3 record, had a 5-3 lead entering the bottom of the fourth inning. But Rhode Island used five hits, a walk and the Americans' third error of the game to turn a two-run deficit into a three run lead at 8-5. Fairfield had made one error in its five previous games in the regional. Two Cumberland runs came on an outfield error.

Rhode Island's lead grew to 10-5 after five innings. The Americans' rallied for a run in the top of the sixth -- Brian Kiremidjian singling home Sam Davenport -- but reliever CJ Davock got out of a bases-loaded jam by striking out Ian Bentley to earn the save.

"We made three errors and it cost us," said Fairfield American manager Michael Steed. "Any time you give Rhode Island a couple of extra outs, it's going to bite you. Rhode Island is a great hitting team. They were locked in.

"We had a great run; we had a great summer. We battled to the end. We had the tying run at the plate. You cannot ask for more."

Steed and his Rhode Island counterpart, David Belisle, each said the high stakes and national TV audience -- including several thousand at the game -- played a role in making each team play in a nervous fashion. Both managers said a seven-game series would be needed to separate these teams.

"It felt like a seven-game series," Belisle said. "It turned out to be somewhat unexpected at the end. I expected a nail-biter."

The first inning was full of anxiety, when the jitters affected play on both sides. The Americans scored three runs in the top of the inning on hits by Jamie Flink, Brian Howell and Jack Steed, as they took advantage of an error to get one of those runs.

But Rhode Island (12-1) tied it in the bottom of the inning on one hit, one walk and two errors.

Fairfield responded to the pressure in the top of the second off Rhode Island starter and winner Nick Croteau when Kiremidjian belted a two-run homer for a 5-3 lead.

PJ Egan, Fairfield's starter, blanked Rhode Island in the second and third innings and he retired the next two batters in the fourth after Trey Bourque had led off with a double. Then Rhode Island's batters struck big time. Its five-run inning was the fourth time at the New Englands in which it rallied for five or more runs in one inning, which includes nine- and 13-run bursts.

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Rhode Island tacked on two more runs in the fifth. Mason Matos homered for the first run, his first hit in the regional.

In 2011, Cumberland American defeated Fairfield American in the New England semifinals.

rwalmark@bcnnew.com; 203-337-4879; twitter.com/ReidWalmark

New England LL final

Rhode Island 10, Fairfield American 6


RHODE ISLAND 300 52x--10 10 1

Records: Fairfield American 16-3, 4-2 New England; Rhode Island 12-1, 5-1. Batteries: FA--PJ Egan, Brian Howell (4) and Vince Camera; RI--Nick Croteau, Christopher Davock (5) and Trey Bourque.