Friday, August 10, 2012

2012 Little League East Region: Day 7

Bedford (NH) 2, Wellesley South (MA) 0

What a great performance on the mound from Bedford's Grant Lavigne. The player who was compared to Barry Bonds before the tournament began looked more like Greg Maddux today. Lavigne tossed a complete game shutout with just one strikeout. Almost every out came via the ground ball. It was dominant without being overpowering. Fun stuff to watch. Billy Seidl was great for Massachusetts but kept getting into deep counts and he didn't last too long on the hill. Offensively, Wellesley put the ball in play, but great pitching and some tough luck equals a lot of balls hit right at people.

Bedford will have Tim Saltzman and Connor Collins available in the final. Saltzman hasn't been as effective in Bristol as he was in New Hampshire, but he might be the perfect recipe for Connecticut. Fairfield has been an offensive juggernaut most of the summer, but little pitchers that mix it up well tend to give them trouble. I think its pitch selection that causes some of the problem. We'll see in the final.

Fairfield American (CT) 4, South Burlington (VT) 3 (F/8)

I mentioned South Burlington's upset of Yalesville back in 2001. They nearly pulled off the same caliber of upset 11 years later. Fairfield was completely on the ropes from the fifth inning on and never looked comfortable all game long. Unshakable Ryan Meury wasn't as sharp as usual on the mound despite not giving up an earned run and striking out eight batters in 4.1 innings if that makes any sense.

With the game so close early on, Fairfield stuck with Meury instead of saving him for the championship game. With the game heading to extra innings, the ineligibility of Matty Clarkin loomed a bit larger.

Vermont's Ethan Klesch was superb on the mound and kept his group of "David's" in the game. He pitched eight great innings against Connecticut in this tournament. He had one bad inning in pool play. Otherwise, he was mystifying. Biagio Paoletta walked five times which has to be some kind of record. While it looked like Vermont was around the plate against him, five walks seems like they wanted no part of the super slugger. Will Lucas eventually came through with the game-winning hit to give the entire Nutmeg State a huge sigh of relief.

Predictions & Previews

#3 Collier Township (PA) vs. #2 Par-Troy East (PA)

Both teams are coming off big wins at the end of pool play, but New Jersey is in the driver's seat pitching-wise. Collier's Nick Serafino should get the start and he's been great. He's a dynamite number two pitcher (Zach Rohaley is unavailable after tossing semifinal-clinching victory against New York). For New Jersey, Emil Matti and Bener Uygen are both available. There's a good chance you see both of them. All of the Jersey relief pitching is available as well.

Serafino, Rohaley, Hess, and company are starting to come around with their bats late in games and they'll need that again against a talented New Jersey team. Anthony Scannelli has been PTE's hottest hitter along with Matti. If Uygen and one other bat step up... Jersey looks good too.

Prediction: New Jersey 5, Pennsylvania 4

#4 West Salisbury (MD) vs. #1 Newark National (DE)

Maryland is coming off two straight losses that they gave away late while setting up their pitching for today. Grason Winterbottom is potentially unavailable, so Matt Chrystostome will be relied on heavily to get the job done. Delaware has been on fire, but will be without star pitcher, Clayton Hansen. The pitching strength doesn't end there though. Joe Silan, Drew Emory, and Matt Theodorakis are all available and all effective. Silan took the lone loss of the tournament against this same Maryland team, however.

No matter who pitches for Delaware though, it shouldn't matter. Unfortunately for Maryland, Winterbottom is the only player really swinging a great bat. He single-handedly beat Delaware last time and I doubt Newark National will allow that to happen again. Newark lost in the semifinals last season by a lone run. This time they win it a little more comfortably.

Prediction: Delaware 6, Maryland 2

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Little League East Region: Day 6 (Plus Semifinal Previews!)

Par-Troy East (NJ) 9, West Salisbury (MD) 1

New Jersey got back into the winning ways today behind some big hits from catcher, Anthony Scannelli. PTE's clean-up hitter did just that today with six RBI including a grand slam that broke a 1-1 tie in the top of the fifth inning. David Ton was great in relief today and Bener Uygen continues to look great on the mound.

The tournament is incredibly unpredictable so far. It seems like every team has pitchers that can shut down anyone in the bracket, but the drop off after that opens the flood gates. For instance, Maryland was in pitching duels for both of its two losses before getting blown out late due to pitching changes.

Collier Township (PA) 7, Stony Point (NY) 2

Another game that was tight throughout but pitching was the difference late. Collier led Stony Point 3-2 in the fifth inning when Pennsylvania was forced to make a pitching change. New York loaded the bases but couldn't capitalize. Collier meanwhile proved they belonged in the semifinals by feasting on New York's bullpen and capped the explosion with a grand slam from Nick Serafino.

Scarborough (ME) 3, Bedford (NH) 0

I predicted winless Maine to come out with a win here because they'd have their ace on the mound and couldn't make the semifinals. That's basically how it went, although I expected both teams to hit more. Bedford's been bitten by the injury bug the last two games and really need Alec Burns back in the lineup. New Hampshire has struggled mightily without him. 

Fairfield American (CT) 9, Wellesley South (MA) 2

Connecticut's string of mercy-rule victories was stopped at two, but the three-time state champions from Fairfield American still had an easy win against Massachusetts. Biagio Paoletta continued to tear the cover off the ball and whoever Connecticut sticks on the mound continues to shut down quality opponents. If Connecticut doesn't win the region, New England will be in big trouble.

East Rankings Through Wednesday

1. Connecticut (4-0)

2. Delaware (3-1)

3. New Jersey (3-1)

4. Pennsylvania (2-2)

5. Massachusetts (2-2)

6. New Hampshire (2-2)

7. Maryland (2-2)

8. Maine (1-3)

9. New York (1-3)

10. Vermont (2-2)

11. Rhode Island (1-3)

12. Washington D.C. (1-3)

Random Thoughts: Finally the semifinals are here. Take a look at those records above. Is this the most parity of all time? It might be. The top three teams in the East are definitely better than the rest, but anyone can beat anyone. It's really strange. I think anyone can win the Mid-Atlantic but Delaware would be the best representative with New Jersey a close second. Pennsylvania and Maryland both have ability to pitch themselves to the title, but wouldn't be a great fit for Williamsport.

On the New England side, it's Connecticut or bust. Fairfield was the best team in 2010 and won the region. They were one of the two best teams in 2011 but got upset. Now, they're the best team by far. They have the pitching and hitting to handle anyone they face. 

Homerun Meter: 27

Strikeout Meter: 280

Prediction Record: 3-1 (Overall 16-8)

Predictions & Previews

#3 Bedford, NH (2-2) vs. #2 Wellesley South, MA (2-2)

New Hampshire comes into this game with a two-game losing streak and sometimes that's tough to swallow even when you weren't "trying" to win those games. Both teams should be starting their top pitchers in this one, Grant Lavigne for New Hampshire and Billy Seidl for Massachusetts. The two pitchers also happen to be their team's best hitters. Seidl has been hitting the ball hard all week long even when he makes an out. Lavigne has found himself in pitcher's counts and has been defensive at the plate. He needs to breakout for New Hampshire to have a chance. The status of slugger Alec Burns is also unknown for New Hampshire. That's certainly been a hole in the lineup the past two games.

With the parity in the region this year, this is a tough game to call. Just a few days ago it looked like New Hampshire clearly the better team in this match up, but Wellesley has looked pretty solid as of late. With Seidl on the mound, I'm going with Massachusetts in a slight upset.

Wellesley South 5, Bedford 3.

#4 South Burlington, VT (2-2) vs. #1 Fairfield American, CT (4-0)

This is one of those potential trap games for Connecticut. Back in 2001, Yalesville CT steamrolled through the region and met up with a number four seed from Vermont... the team? South Burlington. Vermont had backed into the semis that year and lost handily to Connecticut. South Burlington pulled off one of the biggest upsets I've ever seen. This year, Fairfield beat South Burlington 17-1. Vermont's biggest problem for this game is pitching. Sam Premsagar is serviceable and the probably starter, but not having Tate or Sheridan available certainly hurts South Burlington.

Connecticut has the ability to start any of their top three starters in Ryan Meury, Will Lucas, or Matt Kubel. With Matty Clarkin ineligible for the remainder of the tournament, Connecticut will look to keep at least two of these pitchers eligible for the final. I honestly can't project who Fairfield will start because any of the three makes sense. Kubel, the number three pitcher, was very good against Vermont the last time he faced them and could get the start again. Lucas came in the game late and struck out the side in one inning. Meury hasn't seen work since the opening night. There's a chance all three could see action. No matter who starts though, I think the end result is inevitable. Another mercy-rule shortened victory.

Fairfield American 12, South Burlington 1

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

2012 Little League East Region: Day 5

South Burlington (VT) 10, Coventry (RI) 9

After a 1-0 loss to Connecticut on the first night of the tournament, I don't think many people expected to see Rhode Island completely missing the New England semifinals. After watching Vermont lose 17-1 to Connecticut on the second night of the tournament, I don't think many people expected to see Vermont IN the semifinals. Well... here we are.

South Burlington never got down on themselves after falling to 0-2 early in the tournament and now find themselves securely in the semifinals. Ryan Hockenbury, Ben Tate, and Nate Gaboriault were great on offense today.

Rhode Island has two of the best pitchers in the entire region, and had the bad luck of facing Connecticut's Ryan Meury in the first game. I know that Fairfield is sleeping easier now that Coventry is headed home.

Wellesley South (MA) 9, Bedford (NH) 5

The victory by Massachusetts effectively eliminated Maine and Rhode Island from the tournament while clinching a spot for them at the same time. New Hampshire was undone by terrible defense today. Six errors is just too much to overcome. Massachusetts' Billy Seidl swung the bat like a stud today. If he hits that way (and pitches like he can) Wellesley may find themselves beating whoever they meet up with in the semis.

New Hampshire didn't need to win this game and set their pitching up for the playoff round. Lavigne, Saltzman, and Collins will all be available. As long as the defense comes around, they're still the second best team to Connecticut.

Stony Point (NY) 8, Northwest Washington (DC) 2

New York finally got its first win and it still wasn't that easy. DC absolutely proved how tough the whole region is this year because they were legit this year. New York has hit with each team they've played, but the lack of a homerun threat has been the difference. To beat great pitching (which is all that's left) teams need to hit a few balls out of the park. That will be the key to advancing to Williamsport.

Newark National (DE) 13, Collier Township (PA) 0 (F/4)

Wow. Delaware looked scary good with their offense today. To be fair, Pennsylvania didn't use either of their top pitchers (coach's decision/ineligible), but PA's #3 certainly got hit hard. Matt Theodorakis has led this team all summer and is getting hot at the right time. Joe Silan is possibly the best hitter on the team right now, and if Delaware wins the tournament, Clayton Hansen will be the team MVP. When you have three stars playing like that, plus others like Drew Emory. You're in good shape. The first three in the lineup were 9-for-11 today with two homeruns and seven RBI.

Pennsylvania decided to put all its eggs in one basket and will most likely throw their #1 tomorrow against New York. That game now becomes an elimination game with both teams throw one of its top two pitchers. Neither has much available in relief either.

East Region Rankings Through Tuesday

1. Connecticut (3-0)

2. Delaware (3-1)

3. New Jersey (2-1)

4. New York (1-2)

5. New Hampshire (2-1)

6. Massachusetts (2-1)

7. Maryland (2-1)

8. Pennsylvania (1-2)

9. Vermont (2-2)

10. Rhode Island (1-3)

11. Washington D.C. (1-3)

12. Maine (0-3)

Random Thoughts: When New York saw it's pool play schedule, I'm sure they thought they had a good one. Delaware and Pennsylvania would be coming off their third games in three days, usually nobody needs to throw tough pitchers on the final day of pool play, etc... Instead, New York will face four #1 pitchers in all four games.

I've been catching flak for talking negatively about coaching decisions. I'm not trying to second guess anyone (its usually not second guessing because I tweet it the moment I think it). I'm just giving my opinion. I'm just an internet blogger that watches a bunch of baseball. Take it with a grain of salt. I have no problem with people rubbing anything in my face if I'm wrong, but so far the three instances I've been most vocal about have come to fruition. Maine's pitching, Pennsylvania's pitching, and New York leaving their #1 in during a game they were losing against Delaware.

Homerun Meter: 21

Strikeout Meter: 235

Prediction Record: 2-2 (Overall 13-7)

Predictions: New Jersey over Maryland 9-8, New York over Pennsylvania 4-3, Maine over New Hampshire 8-5, and Connecticut over Massachusetts 16-6.

Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont are all in the semifinals. If Massachusetts beats Connecticut, they are the one seed.

New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware have clinched. The winner of New York/Pennsylvania is in. The seeds cannot determined yet. If Maryland wins and New York wins, then it's MD vs NY and DE vs NJ. If Maryland wins and Pennsylvania wins, it's MD vs PA and NJ vs DE. If New Jersey wins, DE vs. MD and NJ vs winner of PA/NY (unless the winner is NY and they give up a ton of runs in the process).

For New England, there's a few different scenarios, so I'll just tell you what it will be if my predictions are correct. CT would be 1, NH would be 2 (head to head over VT and MA), Mass/Vermont determined by Runs Against per inning. If MA beats CT and ME beats NH, then Mass would be 1, CT 2, New Hampshire 3, Vermont 4. If MA beats CT and NH beats ME... CT is probably the 1 based on Runs against per inning, Mass 2 (head-to-head), New Hampshire 3, and Vermont 4.

Follow the action directly on Twitter: @LittleLeaguePro

2012 Little League East Region: Day 4

South Burlington (VT) 5, Wellesley South (MA) 3

Vermont threw a huge monkey wrench into the New England equation by beating Massachusetts on Monday at 8:30am. A Massachusetts victory would've ensured that Vermont and Maine miss the semifinals, but now... all three teams are still alive.

Vermont's Nate Gaboriault hits the ball hard, but other than that, Vermont dinks and dunks their way around the bases. Each game has been the same. It's uncanny how successful it is. They even threatened Connecticut with this type of offense.

Vermont has six 11-year olds on the team and they're important players to the team's success. I don't doubt that they'll be back next year. Ben Tate is one of them and he looked good on the mound while picking up the win.

Newark National (DE) 5, Stony Point (NY) 0

The second straight surprise of the day was Delaware's easy win over New York. It seemed like it was only a matter of time before the Delaware bats actually woke up and they did. Clayton Hansen was dominant on the mound with 11 strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. He only allowed three strikeouts and a walk.

New York has yet to hit the ball hard in the tournament and they're now looking at win four in a row situation. Stony Point faced two great pitchers so far, but they have two great pitchers themselves. Their opponents are finding ways to get the bat on the ball. That's the difference.

Delaware has the ability to win this whole tournament. They have great pitching and they're a big team. Theodorakis broke out today and they have 2-3 other hitters.

Northwest Washington (DC) 8, Par-Troy East (NJ) 2

This was one of the biggest upsets I've ever seen in Bristol. Northwest Washington isn't atrociously bad this year at all. There are five teams worthy of winning this region and they just easily handled one of them and almost took down another one in Maryland. They hit the ball and they have three tough pitchers. Owen Isaacs blasted a deep 3-run homerun in the second inning to start the onslaught. Henry Furlong and Sydney Love-Baker added to the damage in a six-run second inning.

New Jersey's biggest problem right now is defense. They've made seven errors in two games. The fact is, each team has at least two fantastic pitchers. None of the scores matter unless those pitchers are facing each other.

Bedford (NH) 17, Conventry (RI) 9

After only allowing one run in two games, the Coventry pitching strength ran out. New Hampshire has now scored 30 runs in two games (they've also given up 14). The two teams combined for 28 hits and I thought the game was never going to end. Jarrad Grossguth continued to prove that he's one of the best players in the tournament. He was 4-for-4 with a homerun and three RBI. Bedford's Connor Zendzian was 3-for-3 with three RBI.

New Hampshire is 2-0 now but does not have the pitching dominance that most of the other contenders have. When they face someone of RI's top pitching caliber or CT's top two, things will be different.

Collier Township (PA) 15, West Salisbury (MD) 2

This game was a waste of time in terms of determining who can beat who in the semifinals. This was a scoreless game into the fourth inning when both teams were using their #2 pitchers. Once pitch counts came into play, it got out of hand. Pennsylvania scored 13 runs in the sixth inning capped by a grand slam from Steve Alauzen. Nick Serafino was great on the mound in his three innings pitched and proved to be the most dangerous bat in Pennsylvania's lineup. He finished 4-for-5 with four RBI and a homerun.

Fairfield American (CT) 15, Scarborough (ME) 2 (F/4)

Connecticut scored six runs in the top of the first inning with a string of hits. The rout was on right away. Maine answered back with two quick runs in the second inning, but Connecticut was just too much. Fairfield added seven more runs in the third inning behind a grand slam from Biagio Paoletta. He leads the tournament with eight RBI.

Maine falls to 0-3 which was expected, but the 15 runs definitely hurts. Maine is still alive but it's a long shot.

East Region Rankings Through Monday

1. Connecticut (3-0)

2. Delaware (2-1)

3. New Hampshire (2-0)

4. New Jersey (2-1)

5. Pennsylvana (1-1)

6. Rhode Island (1-2)

7. New York (0-2)

8. Maryland (2-1)

9. Washington D.C. (1-2)

10. Vermont (1-2)

11. Massachusetts (1-1)

12. Maine (0-3)

Random Thoughts: This is the craziest tournament I've ever seen in Bristol. The talent is not up or down necessarily, but the talent is even. Pitching is definitely up though. I honestly can't predict who is going to win these regionals until the brackets come out. Pitching matchups are the sole thing that will determine the winner.

Homerun Meter: 17

Strikeout Meter: 200

Prediction Record: 3-3 (Overall 11-5)

Predictions: Rhode Island over Vermont 8-2, New Hampshire over Massachusetts 11-6, New York over DC 7-2, Delaware over Pennsylvania 4-0.

Monday, August 6, 2012

2012 Little League East Region: Day 3

Coventry American (RI) 1, Scarborough (ME) 0

It took Rhode Island until its 10th inning at the plate to score a run in the New England Regional Tournament, but it was a big one as Coventry moved to 1-1 in pool play. Jarrad Grossguth was the hero for RI as he drove in the lone run on an RBI-double in the fourth inning...and oh year he pitched the first 6-inning no-hitter in the region since 2002.

Grossguth was dominant in his performance as he threw 82 pitches, struck out nine, and walked three. His counter part, Connor Kelly, was nearly as good. He tossed a complete-game 1-hitter with seven strikeouts. Neither team committed an error.

Grossguth started rough with six balls in his first seven pitches, but a comebacker right at him turned into a 1-6-3 double play and he rolled from there.

"I knew after that first inning that I had good stuff," Grossguth said. "My curveball worked best, but my fastball was definitely on too. I just hit my spots."

Grossguth said he recognized the no-hit bid in the fourth inning, but it didn't affect his focus.

Rhode Island's pitching looks fantastic through its first two games. Both pitchers (Grossguth and Manny Bjorkland) throw some serious heat. The Rhode Island bats weren't dominant in their state tournament by any stretch, but you can tell they have them. Manager Mark Barter isn't too worried.

"We're having trouble with our bats, but with our pitching so far, who needs them," Barter said. "This is a whole other world up here (in Bristol). Everyone has a number 1 and 1a."

Maine has been a tough luck loser in its two games so far. They're 0-2 currently, but could easily be 1-1 or even 2-0. It's going to be tough to make the semifinal. A win over New Hampshire might be Maine's best bet at this point.

West Salisbury (MD) 6, Northwest Washington (DC) 4 F/4

Two separate rain delays and a shortened game tainted a great chance for DC to throw a wrench into the Mid-Atlantic region. Maryland led 6-0 after 2 1/2 innings and was in complete control before DC scored four runs in the third inning to make the game interesting. The rally included errors, bunt singles, and bloops, but it all looks the same in the scorebook and Maryland was certainly on its heels. A 1-2-3 inning defensively for DC in the top of the fourth completely swung the momentum.

The key moment of the game came in the bottom of the third with the score already 6-4 and bases loaded. Sydney Love-Baker came to the plate after two consecutive hit batsmen and it seemed like a single would break it open. The DC star hit a hard grounder up the middle but Maryland came up with the play and ended the threat.

A loss by Maryland would've been devastating to its chances to make the semifinals, but even with the win, there's still five teams battling for four spots. DC is still alive at 0-2, but is most likely out of it at this point.

The Mid-Atlantic region could be heading towards a tie-breaking situation as there's a lot of parity. The fact that Maryland only played four defensive innings today could come into play. Tune into that mess later.

East Region Rankings Through Day 3

1. Connecticut (2-0)

2. New Jersey (2-0)

3. New York (0-1)

4. Pennsylvania (0-1)

5. Rhode Island (1-1)

6. New Hampshire (1-0)

7. Maryland (2-0)

8. Delaware (1-1)

9. Massachusetts (1-0)

10. Maine (0-2)

11. Vermont (0-2)

12. Washington, D.C. (0-2)

Random Thoughts: The rain today did some solid damage to the field at the A. Barlett Giamatti Little League complex today. Deep left field was under some serious water (probably do to the stream/river that flows back there). As long as the rain holds up before morning, it should be good to go by 8:30am however, the start of the first game on Monday. There's six games altogether now with the postponement of Day 3's two night caps. Each game will run 30 minutes after the next one until the game's are on schedule. With the threat of storms late again, they may just start games 30 minutes after the prior one all day long.

Homerun Meter: 8

Strikeout Meter: 129

Prediction Record: 2-0 (8-2 overall)

Today's Predictions: Mass over Vermont 11-4, New York over Delaware 5-1, New Jersey over DC 13-2, New Hampshire over Rhode Island 6-3, Pennsylvania over Maryland 5-2, and Connecticut over Maine 7-2.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

2012 Little League East Region: Day 2

West Salisbury (MD) 5, Newark National (DE) 4

Maryland opened its tournament behind one of the more heroic individual performances. Grayson Winterbottom drove a fastball the opposite way for a 3-run homerun in the bottom of the third inning to tie the game 3-3 with Delaware. Newark National did the best thing you could do in a situation like that though. They answered back with a run. Winterbottom wasn't finished though. With a runner on, Delaware brought their ace in to face the dominant slugger in the bottom of the fifth inning, but it was no use. Winterbottom crushed a line drive well into the trees in left field for the lead. Finally, with one out in the sixth, Winterbottom came in for the two-out save against Delaware's best hitters. He easily handled them and picked up a victory for Maryland in their first game. Delaware fell to 1-1 in pool play. It was Newark National's first loss in pool play in the last two regional tournaments.

Maryland and Delaware are interesting teams. Both have very good pitching depth, and both have some huge hitters. Besides Winterbottom on Maryland, nobody else between these two teams is hitting. Nobody on Delaware has more than two hits total in two games.
Wellesley South (MA) 5, Scarborough (ME) 4 (F/7)

Maine jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead by the top of the third inning, but committed one of the cardinal sins of  regional tournaments. It was a two-part failure. They got too cute with their pitching in a game they were winning and they forgot they were from Maine. When a state like Maine is beating one of the "big four" of the  New England region, they need to remember it doesn't happen often. By playing for future games, Maine may have cost themselves a trip to the semifinals. Maine misses Vermont. The chance for a win somewhere else is slimmer than they probably realize. I guess you live and you learn. Maybe they'll pull one out somewhere.

Anyway, Massachusetts (which seems to produce small teams a lot) never gave up and got three big runs back in the third inning. Darrald Webb had an RBI-single and Bo Picking knocked in two more with a double to get the Wellesley South boys back in it. Massachusetts, which curiously didn't start their number one, brought him (Billy Seidl) in to pitch the final 4 2/3 innings. He didn't allow a run and struck out seven. Wellesley tied the game in the fifth with an RBI-single from Michael Bomes and scratched the game-winning run across in the seventh with a walk and a single and a tough error to end it.

Par-Troy East (NJ) 4, Collier Township (PA) 3

In the third game of the day, the script continued to stay the same. The home team got down early and came back to win it late by a single run. Pennsylvania scored three runs in the top of the first inning on three hits including a double by Zach Rohaley and an RBI double by Greyden Piechnick. Collier seemed to be feasting on Bener Uygen's pitching from New Jersey. PTE, known for its explosive power, flexed its muscles with the first swing of the bat from Emil Matti. The athletic SS/P hit the brand-new Breen Field scoreboard with a line drive well over 250' away. He leads the region with two homeruns so far. A walk and a single by Uygen gave New Jersey even more life. Anthony Scanelli hit a single through the middle, but a great throw from Caysen O'Keefe in CF cut a run down at the plate easily. A base-running blunder at 1B turned a single with nobody out into a double play. The inning ended with just the homerun.

What seemed like a potential slugfest (and what I predicted would happen) turned into a pitcher's duel. Uygen got stronger and threw harder. He only allowed two singles after the tough first inning in 3 2/3 innings. Rohaley, the Penn. starter didn't allow another hit after Scanelli's single, but that ugly thing called over-thinking came back around. Pennsylvania decided to go to their #2 pitcher for pitch count reasons. He gave up the second run with a double by Kyle Phillips. He was lifted for pitch count reasons to go to the #3 pitcher and the top of the order in the bottom of the fifth. It felt like a bad idea right away. Matti ripped a single, Dan Ruggiero found a hole for a single and Uygen brought it full circle with an RBI-single to tie the game. David Ton sealed the deal with a hit scoring Uygen and New Jersey went on to win.

Fairfield American (CT) 17, South Burlington (VT) 1 (F/4)

Connecticut jumped out to a 2-0 lead on a first-inning homerun (off the scoreboard again) by Will Lucas and never really looked back. Vermont continued to get base runners with the softest hits and plays ever in the second and third innings and even broke through for a run to make it 3-1 heading into the fourth inning. Vermont's lack of depth, and Connecticut's abundance of it would not be denied however. Fairfield sent 19 batters to the plate and scored 14 runs in the fourth to win easily. Lucas finished 3-for-3 with five RBI and two doubles. Matt Kubel hit a 3-run homerun, Michael Ghiorzi added two hits including a double, and Biagio Paoletta was 2-for-3 with three RBI in the victory.

I tweeted during the game that Connecticut needed to prove itself more on offense. I still believe that. I've seen them more than anyone in the regional except for Stony Point (NY) and their offense is extremely streaky. Anyone on the team is capable of hitting one out or driving in runs with singles, but they go cold a lot. I think they'll win a weak regional, but to continue to be successful, the offense needs more consistency. The fourth inning was a good start though.

East Region Team Rankings through Day 2

1. Connecticut (2-0)

2. New Jersey (2-0)

3. New York (0-1)

4. Pennsylvania (0-1)

5. Rhode Island (0-1)

6. Maryland (1-0)

7. New Hampshire (1-0)

8. Delaware (1-1)

9.  Massachusetts (1-0)

10. Maine (0-1)

11. Vermont (0-2)

12. Washington D.C. (0-1)

Random Thoughts: I'm usually a proponent of "winning the tournament is more important than winning the game." In pool play though, with bunched up games and single-elimination semifinals lurking, you HAVE to win your first game if its winnable. Two wins almost always gets you in the crossover, and a victory early means those pitchers can come back sooner, usually in game four if necessary or hopefully just the semifinal. By trying to keep your pitchers eligible for games two and three of pool play AND losing, you're putting yourself in a big hole. Sure, you have the ability to win those middle games now, but they became even more important and you're one, two, or three days closer to the semifinal now. You're potentially going to burn your starters  in those middle games when you could have burned them in game one instead. To me, it's a no-brainer. Win game 1 with your guy if you can. It's a huge advantage.

Homerun Meter: 8

Strikeout Meter: 105

Prediction Record: 3-1 (6-2 overall)

Sunday's Predictions: Rhode Island over Maine 5-2, Maryland over DC 7-2, Mass over Vermont 10-4, and New York over Delaware 5-1.

If you'd like game updates as they happen (and you don't have the LL site to be checking on), follow me on Twitter: @LittleLeaguePro 

If you have questions, comments, thoughts, etc... please add a comment below or just ask on twitter. Also, if you have blog ideas for each day of the tournament, please let me know. I'll be getting into some other regions as the weekend goes on and we know more about the teams. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

2012 Little League East Region: Day 1

Newark National (DE) 7, Northwest Washington (DC) 1

Both these teams played in the regional last year and have a lot of starting experience and it was a well-played game for the most part. Delaware started one of their lower end pitchers (Andrew Emory), but he threw well and looked pretty good. Delaware is a big team. DC's starter (Owen Isaacs) was the best D.C. pitcher in a few years and was a very viable number one with a mid-60's fastball. The game was scoreless through two innings, but it seemed like a matter of time before Delaware broke through. They did with a big five-run inning in the third and that was the difference. Their top hitter was only 1-for-4 today, but they had a couple big hits in that inning. Delaware didn't hit as much as I expected them to but they used all four of their top pitchers and they have a deep staff. Two of them threw very hard, and the other two were above average. D.C. will go 0-4 and maybe will take some on the chin, but they're not horrific, and Sydney Love-Baker is fun to watch. She's a legitimate player.

Bedford (NH) 13, South Burlington (VT) 5

I was excited for this game because of the fanfare that New Hampshire's Grant Lavigne brought to the table. To be honest, the pressure of this "Barry Bonds of LL" moniker is way too much for a kid to live up to. I take some blame for that one. He finished 0-for-2 on the day with two walks, but you can see he's a hitter. His two outs matched the amount of outs he's had in the entire tournament so far. Lavigne threw hard on the mound but doesn't have much off-speed and Vermont hit him for four runs in the second inning. Three of the runs were earned, but none of the hits were hit hard. It was a combination of tough luck and the new field dimensions (which I'll get into afterwards). Bedford picked up three runs in the third behind some big hits from Alec Burns and Connor Zendzian (3-for-4, 2 RBI). They added the table with ten runs combined in the fifth and sixth innings to take control of the game. Joey Barrett finished 2-for-2 with three RBI and two walks. The bench came away with three hits on the day. Vermont's Nate Gaboriault is the trivia answer for "Who hit the first homerun at Breen Field with the 225-foot fences?"

Par-Troy East (NJ) 4, Stony Point (NY) 2
The first of the day's two heavyweight fights was a doozy. New Jersey's Emil Matti found his control (which escaped him in the NJ state finals) as he blazed through five easy innings on the mound before a tough sixth. New Jersey got the scoring going in the first inning when Stephen Greeley hung a two-strike curveball to Anthony Scanelli who deposited it 280' away into the trees for a 2-0 lead. Greeley allowed six hits in four innings and had a dominant fastball but left two off speed pitches up on the day. Matti hit the other one over the left centerfield wall. NJ tacked a fourth run on in the third inning when Scanelli hit an RBI-double. NY threatened heavily in the sixth with a bunt single (and a throwing error), a hard single, and a ripped double. Matti's night was done (not by the coaches' choice though, they made a blunder by taking four trips to the mound). David Ton came on against NY's 4-6 hitters with two on and no outs and only allowed an infield single and an RBI-groundout. This looked like the matchup of the two best teams with two mistake pitches being the difference. New York also had their #1 pitcher ineligible for the game. The rematch will be a good one.

Fairfield American (CT) 1, Coventry (RI) 0

I told anyone that would listen for weeks that Ryan Meury was the most fun Little League pitcher to watch. The reasons? His size (he's 5'0'' at best), and his nasty curveball. Meury can ratchet the fastball up near 65 mph when he brings it, but his pitch is the curveball. He throws a true lefty curveball that breaks out and down. He throws it in the dirt, he throws it for a strike, he throws it inside, and he'll backdoor you with it. He's been striking out more than two batters per inning the whole tournament and has only given up two runs to date. For someone who can make a mistake with an average fastball, it's impressive and baffling.

Against Rhode Island, he proved once again that he's for real. Meury threw a complete game two-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts. He also scored the game-winning run on a passed ball in the fifth inning after he hit a single and Biaggi Paoletta roped a double. Coventry starter Manny Bjorklund threw the hardest on the day (72-73?) and was dominant against a team who's hit ace pitching before. His pitch count was his worst enemy and he reached it in the game-turning fifth inning. He struck out eight batters in 4 1/3, gave up zero runs, and just one hit. He walked four. His relief, Jarrad Grossguth, also threw hard, but 68 mph doesn't look so bad after seeing 72 all day. This ALSO looked like a championship preview. We'll see how Maine and Massachusetts look tomorrow.

East Region Team Rankings on Day 1

1) Connecticut

2) New Jersey

3) New York

4) Rhode Island

5)New Hampshire

6) Delaware

7) Vermont

8) Washington, D.C.

OFF: Massachusetts, Maine, Pennsylvania, Maryland

Random Thoughts: The new fences are awesome. 225 is the perfect distance. All the cheap homeruns are taken away, and it opens up the outfield. While 3-4 balls today were homeruns somewhere else, the biggest effect is easily on the outfielders. They have so much more room to cover (obviously) and it showed. You can't hide someone out there. The gaps are huge, and balls drop in front of the outfielders a lot. It will be interesting all week long.

Homerun Meter: 3

Strikeout Meter: 50

Tomorrow's Predictions: Maryland over Delaware 4-1, Maine over Massachusetts 6-3, New Jersey over Pennsylvania 9-5, and Connecticut over Vermont 11-1.

If you'd like game updates as they happen (and you don't have the LL site to be checking on), follow me on Twitter: @LittleLeaguePro 

If you have questions, comments, thoughts, etc... please add a comment below or just ask on twitter. Also, if you have blog ideas for each day of the tournament, please let me know. I'll be getting into some other regions as the weekend goes on and we know more about the teams.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Which Version of the Little League East Regional Tournament Was Best?

Little League expanded the World Series participants from 8 to 16 total back in 2001 giving twice as many teams the Williamsport experience. 2001 happens to be the first year I traveled to Bristol, Connecticut for the Mid-Atlantic and New England region tournaments. Together, it’s still known as the East Region tournament despite two teams advancing.

In the past 11 years, there have been some amazing baseball games, teams, and talent. The best year, in my opinion, was 2006. Portsmouth, New Hampshire won the New England region and Mid-Island LL from Staten Island won the Mid-Atlantic region that year, but the story lies in the talent of almost every team that made it to Bristol. After a couple days of the tournament, most people can get a feel for who the best team or best couple teams are. Good years have three teams worthy of the championship, and great years have four. In 2006, the New England region had FIVE teams that would’ve been a great representative for the LLWS. The Mid-Atlantic was no slouch either with a couple great teams and a one of the best pitchers I’ve ever seen.

I’m known for always sitting on my blanket in the third base bleachers and also keeping a notebook with the scorecard for every single game in Bristol. Referring to my 2006 notebook, here’s the picture I can paint for you about that great year.

The first game of the tournament was a Mid-Atlantic pool play game between Capitol City Little League and South Caroline, Maryland. Coming into the tournament, Maryland’s Brandon Nelson had a reputation of being a power pitcher. This was an understatement. Using a radar gun at the field, Nelson was clocked as high as 78 MPH and consistently threw 73-75 MPH.  He tossed a complete game shutout giving up one hit, striking out 17, and walking just one batter. It was remarkable. South Caroline won 4-0.

Peabody Western, Massachusetts blew out Yarmouth, Maine 15-0 in the next game. They smacked six homeruns including three in a row at one point. Their top pitcher, Sean Glabicky, also topped 70 MPH. He struck out eight in just three innings. In Game 3, New York was down 9-4 to Naamans, Delaware in the fifth inning before storming back to win 10-9 behind a grand slam from 11-year old Chris Goetz. The day didn’t slow down at all in the night cap. Glastonbury American, Connecticut beat Lincoln, RI 4-3 in seven innings behind a walkoff homerun from Steve Michalek. Michalek also struck out 14 in six innings.

After one of the craziest days of games ever, it didn’t stop on day two. Portsmouth, NH and Colchester, VT had their first of two battles and Jordan Bean put his hat in the ring for best pitcher in the region. Bean threw a complete game 1-hiter with all outs via strikeout, 18 of them in total. Vermont’s Josh Place did a valiant job matching Bean zero for zero after giving up a first inning run.

On day three, Massachusetts and Rhode Island battled, and RI (now 0-2) was in yet another extra-inning game. This time they came out on the right end of it when Ryan O’Dell blasted a tenth-inning homerun to walkoff with a 3-1 victory. If ten innings and four runs were too much pitching for you, New York played another barnburner, this time beating Maryland 20-10 with 20 hits. Vermont continued its pitching prowess with a shutout of Connecticut and blasted three homeruns in the first inning to prove they were the best Vermont team in history, quite possibly.

Maryland got back in the win column with Nelson on the mound as hit fired off 14 more strikeouts, but gave up his first run. He had 31 strikeouts in 12 innings at that point. Colchester continued to pitch well, but lost another tough one, this time to Massachusetts. Glabicky struck out ten in a complete game 1-hitter and Matt Tehan and Ryan Church hit back-to-back homeruns in the fourth to do all the scoring.

Lincoln, Rhode Island finished pool play 1-3 and out of contention despite going to extra innings three times. The third and final time was against New Hampshire. It was 1-1 through six and yet another pitcher’s duel. Bean gave up an unearned run in the sixth and struck out 14 batters. He had 32 strikeouts in 12 innings. O’Dell struck out 10 batters in six innings before Portsmouth unloaded in the seventh inning off Rhode Island’s relievers.

Back in the Mid-Atlantic, Livingston American, New Jersey was proving to be the best team in the region and bolstered that claim with ANOTHER extra inning game. New Jersey beat New York 8-6 in seven innings giving them an unblemished record heading into the semifinals. The loss by New York forced them to have to face Nelson in the semifinals.

New Jersey felt all but assured the regional championship with the semifinals matchups. Nelson and Maryland should take care of New York, the second best team in the region, and then they could easily handle Maryland’s weak back end pitching. Not so fast. Nelson led off the semifinals with a long homerun, and didn’t allow a hit for five innings.  Down 1-0 in the sixth against the most dominant pitcher in the region, New York squeezed two hits off Nelson to score the game-tying run. Nelson finished with 14 strikeouts in six innings, but was done for the day due to the six inning pitch rule. 11-year old Chris Goetz did his part for New York by not allowing another hit after the Nelson homerun (intentionally walking Nelson twice in the process). He struck out 12. In the bottom of the seventh though, Matt Davis belted a walk-off homerun to shock Maryland and enter the Mid-Atlantic championship game.

The game that followed is responsible for many rule changes in Little League, specifically, the fact that a mandatory play violation doesn’t result in a forfeit anymore.

Vermont, which hadn’t hit well for most of the tournament, blasted three homeruns against New Hampshire and took a 9-7 lead into the sixth and final inning. The Vermont manager realized that he hadn’t put in a sub, so he did the only thing he could do to try and make sure his team had a chance to play in the championship. He instructed his players to walk everyone on New Hampshire. This would allow New Hampshire to tie the game and give Vermont a chance to get their player in the game.

New Hampshire recognized the problem obviously and their manager instructed his players to swing at the balls which were purposely being thrown the backstop. Players on the field were crying, nobody knew what to do. It was a mess. Little League got involved. Told the managers they were making a mockery of the game and Vermont forfeited a game they were winning in the sixth inning. New Hampshire went on to the World Series behind 13 more strikeouts from Jordan Bean and another shutout. He had 45 strikeouts in 18 innings during the tournament. He finished the entire tournament run leading to Williamsport with 91 strikeouts in 40 innings. In Williamsport he added 26 more strikeouts in 12 innings for a grand total of 125 strikeouts in 52 innings.

Back in the Mid-Atlantic, New Jersey and New York played another game for the ages this time in the regional championship. New Jersey took a 1-0 lead when 11-year old Nick Ebert blasted a solo homerun in the fourth inning, but New York got the run back in the fifth on an error. In the bottom of the sixth with the score still tied 1-1, Frank Smith drove a walk-off homerun and sent Mid-Island Little League to the World Series. It was the second walk-off homerun in a row for New York.

I’m not sure the drama of the games, the quality of the pitching, or the overall talent on the field can ever be topped in Bristol again, but no matter what I’ll never forget those ten days in 2006. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

New England Region Preview

Tournament History: Since New England split with the Mid-Atlantic region, Massachusetts has excelled winning four regional championships in the last 11 years. Rhode Island’s Cinderella run to the title last year gave the Bay State its third trip to the World Series to trail Mass, and Connecticut has won the regional championship twice in that time. New Hampshire and Maine each have one title and Vermont is the lone team in the region without a championship. Vermont has never reached the Little League World Series, in fact.

2012 Team Pedigree: Fairfield American (CT) didn’t have much of a history before 2010. Now? They have a Little League World Series appearance and a third straight state championship. It’s the first time in state history actually. This group has won three state championships on their own as 10’s, 11’s, and now 12’s. In 2010, this group won the entire East Region as 10-year olds up in Cranston, Rhode Island.

Bedford (NH) just won its eighth state championship and first since 2005. Bedford won the entire East region in 1993 and has a good history in the regionals. Overall, Bedford is 15-6 all-time in the East/New England region. That’s excellent. South Burlington (VT) has won three state championships, all in the last ten years. They’re only 3-7 overall, but in 2001 advanced all the way to the New England regional championship after sneaking into the semis at 1-3 and upsetting undefeated Yalesville, CT.

Coventry American (NH), Scarborough (ME), and Wellesley South (MA) all won their first state championships this year. Coventry won Rhode Island’s 11-year old championship last year and Scarborough has won the Maine title each year so far with this group (10s, 11s, and 12s). Wellesley made the state final four last year as 12-year olds with four 11’s on the team. That group is back and led WSLL to the state title.

Team Previews

Bedford, NH (7-0): Any talk of Bedford starts with Grant Lavigne who I dubbed “The Little League Barry Bonds.” Lavigne is 17-for-19 in the tournament so far with 11 homeruns and 11 walks (most of which are of the intentional variety). If you think he’s the whole team though, you’re wrong. The team is hitting .449 overall with 23 total homeruns. At least seven players have hit homeruns in the seven games leading up to the regional. Timmy Saltzman is one of the team’s top starters and fired a complete game 2-hitter in the state championship game. Lavigne is a capable #2 starter. Alec Burns is another hitter to watch.

South Burlington, VT (11-0): South Burlington won the state championship as 10-year olds and easily defended their crown as 12’s. Eamon Sheridan is a dominant number one pitcher and also one of the team’s best hitters. South Burlington’s power travels up and down the lineup as nine different players have taken Vermont pitchers deep.

Fairfield American, CT (13-1): This group of 12-year olds has won a regional championship and three state championships. They’ve only lost two games in three years. After sweeping the state championship series 10-0 and 8-0, FALL is feeling good. Everyone on the team has homerun power, and the most surprising is diminutive third baseman Kevin Oricoli. “KO” has three homeruns since the sectionals began and is swinging a great bat. The team’s best player though is catcher Biaggio Paoletta. The Italian Stallion has four homeruns since the section 1 tournament and is a fantastic athlete. He might be the best catcher I’ve seen this year behind the dish. Pitching is Fairfield’s forte led by another diminutive star, Ryan Muery. Muery has 46 strikeouts in his last 23 innings pitched and has only allowed two runs. Watch out for pitcher/hitters Will Lucas and Matt Kubel.

Coventry American, RI (8-0): Coventry didn’t run wild through the state of Rhode Island, but coming through the Bay State unblemished is certainly something to behold especially with the pitch count rules now. Pitching seems to be Coventry’s method of winning. In the state finals, Coventry gave up just five runs in its three games. Look for Jarrad Grossguth to lead the way at the plate along with Quentin Rearden. Manny Bjorklund and Grossguth are the fireballers for Coventry.

Scarborough, ME (8-0): Scarborough has dominated the state of Maine for three years in a row and is looking to put a nice run together in Bristol. Scarborough has power through the lineup and is led by Jared Brooks on the mound along with Connor Kelly. Zoltan Panyi has some big-time power as well.

Wellesley South, MA (13-1): Wellesley won Massachusetts for the first time coming out of a tough district and walking off with a come-from-behind victory in the state championship game. Wellesley reached the state final four in 2011 but went winless during pool play. Four players from that team had enough experience to lead their team to a championship in 2012. Billy Seidl is the unquestioned leader of the team. He hits homeruns in bunches and is one of the best pitchers in the state. Kaeden Bentley is the team’s other go-to starter and T.J. Maley is one of the team’s hottest hitters right now.

Projected Records

Connecticut 4-0

Rhode Island 3-1

New Hampshire 2-2

Massachusetts 2-2

Maine 1-3

Vermont 0-4

Semifinals: Connecticut over Massachusetts 7-2, New Hampshire over Rhode Island 4-3

Final: Connecticut 10, New Hampshire 5

East Region News Package

Tyler Jankoski, a longtime volunteer at Little League's East Region headquarters in Bristol, is an aspiring weather and news man. Here's a YouTube clip he put together for the East Region tournament and its impact on the local area.

Little League regionals are on the way!

2012 Mid-Atlantic Region Preview

Tournament History: In the 11 years of the Mid-Atlantic region, Pennsylvania, New York, and Maryland have each won three championships. Delaware and New Jersey each have one title, with District of Columbia looking for its first trip to a regional final, let alone the title itself.

2012 Team Pedigree: Newark National (DE) and Northwest Washington (DC) are both returning for the second consecutive year to the regional. Newark has been to the regional six times prior to 2012, and its 11-6 overall in the tournament. Newark National made the regional semifinals four times. Northwest Washington is 0-8 all-time in the regional, but NWLL returns seven players from last year. That’s a significant experience advantage.

Stony Point (NY) won its first state title in 2010 and returns this year. Assistant coach John Greeley was an assistant two years ago as well when he coached his oldest son, SS/P John. Now, he coaches SS/P Stephen. West Salisbury (MD) has two previous state championships, both within the last ten years. In 2007, WS made it to Williamsport after finishing fourth in pool play.

Par-Troy East (NJ) and Collier Township (PA) both won their first state titles this year. PTE doesn’t have history in the 12-year old division but became the first New Jersey team to win state championships at different age groups (PTE won NJ’s 11-year old title last year). Collier will look to piggy back the success of Keystone Little League which won the regional title a year ago.

Team Previews (Tournament Records in Parentheses)

Northwest Washington, DC (4-0): District of Columbia is traditionally the weakest team at the region and that should be the case again this year. NWLL has become a force in DC recently and this could be their best team yet. They return seven players from last year’s team. They easily won the DC tournament. NWLL not only has the only girl in the regional tournament this year in Sydney Love-Baker, but Love-Baker has turned into one of the team’s top hitters and is fantastic behind the plate. Her twin brother Ty is also one to watch. Owen Isaacs is the team’s ace and will look to steal a victory somewhere to give the league its first win ever at regionals.

Newark National, DE (9-1): Newark went undefeated in pool play a year ago and faltered in a tough battle with Paramus, NJ. With multiple players returning from that team and a 10-year old state title under their belts, Newark is looking to go even further. The two unquestioned leaders of the team are Matt Theodorakis and Clayton Hansen. Theodorakis is a bonafide star in the leadoff spot and Hansen is an excellent top of the rotation starter.

Stony Point, NY (11-1): Stony Point comes into the regional after handling the state of New York fairly easily. The lone blemish on Stony Point’s record is a 12-inning loss in the state finals game one. Stony Point’s pitching is its strength. The team has two top of the line pitchers in Brian Wholey and Stephen Greeley. Both throw hard. Stony Point has a deep lineup with power throughout. Ray Pacella is the probably the team’s most consistent hitter.

Par-Troy East, NJ (14-1): Par-Troy lost its first game in the state final four and needed to win four straight games to make it back. With the explosive lineup they possess, it was almost easy. With power up and down the lineup, Par-Troy can slug with anyone. Bener Uygun hits homeruns and doubles nearly every time up and is an RBI machine. Emil Matti is powerful at the top of the order and has dynamite speed. Anthony Scannelli is fearsome in the cleanup spot and Vinny Prezioso has two homeruns in his last two games.

West Salisbury, MD (9-1): West Salisbury came out of nowhere to win the state of Maryland which had two other potential favorites, but that’s not for lack of talent. Matt Chrysostome is the team’s leader at the plate and gets the job done on the mound too. He and Grason Winterbottom form a solid pitching duo. Cade Hurley hits homeruns in bunches.

Collier Township, PA (11-0): Collier wasn’t the favorite in the Pennsylvania state tournament, but found a way to win and is one of lone undefeated teams left in the entire country (welcome to pitch count rules!). Collier can outslug almost anybody and it starts with Reed Bruggeman. Bruggeman clubbed two homeruns in the state tournament and racked up 11 RBI. He hit .583. Steve Alauzen also hit .583 and smacked a pair of homeruns. He had 8 RBI. In all, Collier drove 12 balls over the fence in the four state tournament games and nine different players hit one. Pitching may be Collier’s biggest issue, but with bats like theirs, it may be good enough.

Projected Records

New York 3-1

New Jersey 3-1

Pennsylvania 3-1

Maryland 2-2

Delaware 1-3

Washington, D.C. 0-4

Semifinals: New York over Maryland 4-1, New Jersey over Pennsylvania 8-5.

Final: New York 5, New Jersey 4