BRISTOL, Conn. — Two days ago, the season was down to a final out. But on Sunday afternoon, the Coventry Little League team was not only still alive, it was on a bus headed to Williamsport, Pa.
Jake Mather rocked a shot to left field to put the Rhode Island champions in front, 3-2, in the top of the fifth inning, and closer Anthony Colucci and the defense behind him made sure it held up as Coventry defeated Pittsfield, Mass., in the New England Regional championship.
“A little unbelievable, a little hectic and a little fuzzy-brained right now,” Coventry manager Lou Simon said. “We have to be on a bus in less than an hour and 20 minutes. We have to pack everything together.
“Getting all that together and trying to have sink in what just happened [is a lot for me], and I’m sure the boys feel the same way right now.
“It was a great game and the boys battled like they’ve done all summer.”
Coventry (4-1 in the tournament) showed plenty of fight coming back from its 10-1 loss to Pittsfield on Wednesday at A. Bartlett Giamatti Little League Training Center. New Hampshire had Rhody on the ropes on Friday with a 5-0 lead going into the sixth, but Coventry rallied for six runs to pull it out and set up a rematch with Pittsfield (3-1).
The only catch was staff aces Tommy Turner and Mather were not going to be able to pitch in the final, so that meant Logan Lama would be the starter. An added wrinkle was that Pittsfield was coming in on three-days rest, which included Saturday’s rainout, and was throwing ace Evan Blake with almost a full bullpen behind him.
Lama struggled with his control at times and allowed two runs on four straight walks — one intentional to Blake — in the third inning. That allowed Pittsfield to tie the game, 2-2.
Lama rebounded, however, and pitched into the fifth, where he reached his pitch limit. He was relieved by Colucci with two outs and he finished the job.
Lama allowed three hits and two earned runs with five walks and five strikeouts. He also came up huge in the fourth, throwing just four pitches — he was at 73 for the game — to retire the side and extend his outing another inning.
“I wasn’t really that nervous,” Lama said. “I knew if I threw strikes and threw hard, I would be able to do my job.”
Colucci had yet to pitch in Coventry’s postseason, but Simon went with his gut, recalling how well the right-hander did during a Rhode Island Little League playoff game this summer.
Colucci faced only four batters, catching a break twice in the sixth on Pittsfield baserunning miscues. Lama threw out Cam Sims, who tripped as he tried to round the first-base bag, trying to stretch a single into a double. Kody Fretts nabbed Owen Salvatore trying to advance to second on a throwing error for another out.
Earlier, Colucci had his own big play, diving for and catching a foul ball with his catcher’s mask still on in front of the Pittsfield dugout.
“The catcher made an outstanding play,” Pittsfield manager Joe Skutnik said. “The 10-1 game the other day, that was an anomaly. We knew this was going to be a tight game and we just felt with Evan on the mound it would be a close game.
“And it ended up being a close game with just one pitch that [Blake] didn’t put where he wanted it to go.”
Simon’s hunch also paid off before the game when he switched his son, Tyler, from center field back to shortstop with Turner. The younger Simon was a wizard in the field, picking balls out of the dirt and starting the team’s lone double play.
Despite winning the first meeting and having almost all his pitchers available, Skutnik knew Coventry would be no walkover in the rematch.
After stranding three runners in the opening two innings, Coventry took a 2-0 lead in the top of the third. Turner and Mather put together back-to-back singles with one out to start it off.
Each runner moved up a base on a wild pitch from Blake. Fretts scored Turner with a single, while Mather would scored on another wild pitch.
Pittsfield tied it in the bottom of the inning and the only run from there would come on Mather’s bomb off the left-field light post. On a 0-2 count, the right-handed slugger blasted a Blake offering off the tower to give Coventry the lead.
“When I got to the 0-2 count, I knew I had to protect the plate,” said Mather, who was 3-for-3. “[The ball] was there, so I drove it.”
Coventry will open the LLWS Thursday night against the team from Houston, Texas.
“I don’t think we’re going to say, ‘Mission accomplished,' " Lou Simon said. “We want to keep going and I think we can compete down in Williamsport.”