CUMBERLAND — Burrillville practiced all week expecting to face Cumberland National ace Brandon Croteau on Thursday at Garvin Field.
And it did. Just not until the third inning, after Burrillville had built an eight-run cushion and appeared well on its way to victory.
An appearance from Croteau — and his lethal curveball — changed all that.
Sparked by Croteau’s four innings of stellar relief, Cumberland National rallied for an 11-9 win to keep pace in Pool B of the District IV tournament.
William Davock, James Haupt and Cam St. Amand homered for National (2-1), which returns no members from last year’s state championship squad that came within one win of the Little League World Series.
Manager Ray Creamer’s club believes it can have its own special summer in 2011.
Case in point: Thursday’s game.
Burrillville (0-2) struck quickly, plating four runs in each of the first two frames opposite National starter Kylie Creamer.
With two out in the first, Christian Toti launched a three-run triple to left field and scored on left fielder Josh Carlson’s throwing error. Daniel Allen and Jason Cabral added two-run singles in the second, arming the visitors with an 8-0 advantage.
The sizable lead seemed like more than enough support for Burrillville starter Tyler Kearney, who cruised through two innings before unraveling in a 45-pitch third. National sent 12 batters to the plate, scoring eight runs on six hits.
In a span of four at-bats to begin the frame, Haupt and St. Amand clubbed two-run home runs to halve the deficit at 8-4. Three runs later, Davock capped the explosive inning with a two-out solo shot to center.
The eight-spot gave National new life, and with Croteau relieving Creamer to start the third, it was a new game from that point forward.
“We were in a funk there,” Creamer said. “We changed pitchers and we seemed to rally around the change and really put it together. That one inning, I didn’t expect anything like that. I haven’t seen anything like that in a while.”
Featuring a potent fastball and paralyzing curve, Croteau sat down nine of the 10 batters he faced between the third and fifth frames.
“When he came in, that was the difference in the game,” Burrillville manager David Sherman said. “We thought he was going to start the game, so we worked on [hitting the curveball] all week long. We don’t throw curveballs in Burrillville. They had to be patient, and they weren’t patient. They were jumping at it, and they shouldn’t have jumped at it.”
Said Creamer, “We were planning on mixing it up a little bit here and surprising them a little bit. I think we surprised ourselves.”
National pulled ahead on Justice Belmont’s fourth-inning RBI single to center and tacked on two more in the fifth for good measure.
Staring at an 11-8 deficit entering the sixth, Burrillville finally got to Croteau for a run on a wild pitch that pulled it within two. Fittingly, National’s star right-hander ended the game by striking out Burrillville’s No. 3 and 4 hitters.
All told, Croteau fanned nine over his four innings of work, yielding three baserunners.
It was certainly a missed opportunity for Burrillville, which hosts North Smithfield next Wednesday and concludes pool play at Bernon next Friday.
“We had them in a hole and we just couldn’t finish,” Sherman said. “[An] 8-0 [lead] is nothing in Little League baseball. This set our goals back a little bit, but who knows? If we win the next two, we’ll be 2-2. You’ve got to play one game at a time and you’ve got to win out.”
National, eyeing its third district crown since 2007, wraps up pool play against Bernon next Wednesday at Garvin Field.
If Thursday’s game was any indication, Creamer’s team just might have what it takes to author a run similar to its counterpart of a year ago.
“There’s a bar that’s been set by those guys,” Creamer said. “These guys here would love to get to that same level. It’s going to be a challenge. I think last year’s team was gifted and blessed, and we have some people who are comparable. With a little magic here and there, you never know.”