SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. – The Holbrook Little League All-Stars nearly pulled off a dramatic victory in the United States Bracket in the first round of the Little League Baseball World Series on Thursday.
Down by four runs entering the bottom of the sixth inning, Holbrook staged a rally. However, it was too little, too late as the Jackson Township team fell 7-6 to Fairfield (Ct.) at the Howard J. Lamade Stadium.
Holbrook will meet the loser of Thursday night’s Southwest-Great Lakes game on Saturday at 3 p.m. on ABC in an elimination game.
Mid-Atlantic champion Holbrook (20-2) erupted for four runs in the sixth.
Leadoff hitter Mike Arent walked on a 3-0 pitch and went to second as Andy Osmond grounded out to first base. Arent scored on a fielding error by the third baseman on a ground ball struck by losing pitcher Garrett Drew to cut the deficit to 7-3. Drew, who wound up on second base, scored on a single up the middle by Tai Mann to pull Holbrook to within 7-4.
Chris Cartnick followed with a two-run homer over the left-field fence on a 1-0 offering, cutting the lead to 7-6. R.J. Vashey grounded out to third and J.R. Osmond walked. Charlie Meglio grounded out to shortstop, forcing Osmond and ending the game.
Fairfield took a 1-0 lead in the first on a two-out RBI single to center by Tyler Bauer, who connected on Drew’s 12th pitch of the game.
“Keep it (the ball) down,” Holbrook manager Rob Grano, who wore a live microphone, courtesy of ESPN, told Drew. “That’s why we call for consecutive curveballs, to get you into the groove faster.”
Mann answered with a one-out homer to right field off winning pitcher Ethan Righter. Mann drove Righter’s eighth pitch of the game over the fence to tie the at one.
New England champion Fairfield–19-0 in all-star play–swung ahead to stay 2-1 in the second inning. Sean O’Neill followed with a two-run single in the third for a 4-1 lead.
Holbrook cut its deficit to 4-2 in the third.
With two out, Cartnick walked on a 3-2 pitch and advanced to second on a Vashey single. J.R. Osmond walked to load the bases. With Meglio batting, Cartwick dashed home on an 0-2 wild pitch. With runners at second and third, Meglio was caught looking at a 2-2 pitch.
Matthew Vivona pushed the lead to 6-2 in the fourth when he tripled home two runs with one out. Bauer made it 7-2 in the sixth, ripping an RBI single.
Drew pitched 2 1/3 innings. He allowed four runs on six hits, struck out two and walked one. Righter hurled 3 2/3 innings allowin two runs on four hits and striking out seven.
“I am real disappointed,” Holbrook manager Rob Grano said. “We definitely did not play our best and that is what is disappointing. They pitched great. We made some errors and we did not necessarily pitch that great as well. Having said that, we were down by a run. We had our chances. We struck out nine times and left nine guys on base. We did not pitch as well as we should have and we didn’t hit as well as we can until the last inning.
“It could have been jitters. We were so battle tested. We just did not pitch and we did not put their hitters away. They put a lot of balls in play. Teams that don’t strike out have a better chance to win. It’s very tough to win when you strike out nine times.”
Grano said the loss did not lessen his team’s accomplishments earlier in all-star play. It has won four titles.
“It does not take the shine off of them,” he said. “There are 7,000 Little League teams in the world and now we’re down to 16. Anybody can beat anybody. We are not done yet. We can still make a run through the loser’s bracket. We have to get that first one (win) and see what happens after that. I think we can play much better. We showed a lot of fight in that last inning. I expect us to play a lot better Saturday. The bottom line is that we are going to have to hit the way we are capable of. If we do that, we will be fine.
“We have to hold onto the hope that the final inning will be the continuation of how we will play on Saturday. The boys are a very resilient bunch.”
Grano on his team’s crowd support: “I felt the crow for us was absolutely fantastic. After Cartnick homered, I never heard anything that loud in my life.”
Grano to his players on the microphone: “Take deep breaths. You’re gonna be fine, I promise you. You will be fine. Play together. Barrel up. Get some line drives. Take a pitch. Take a strike.”
The game was telecast on ESPN. A commentator was former major league player Aaron Boone.
Todd Frazier, now playing for the New York Yankees after starring for 1998 LLBWS champion Toms River East American (23-4 in all-star play) tweeted prior to the game, “Holbrook letssssss gooooo #boys of the summer represent #jersey.” He wore a red shirt heralding the team’s past titles.
Dion Lowe, who led Lakewood (15-0 in all-star action) to the 1975 national title–foreign teams were barred from the event because of eligibility issues–said on his Facebook page prior to the game, “Good luck to Holbrook Litttle League today, this ol’ guy (54) from Lakewood sure is hoping for some good news!!!! Also shout out to their vice president of baseball David Citron “cit” sure hope your guys have a great day!!!”