BURRILLVILLE – Burrillville found the perfect way to cap Monday night’s dedication ceremonies of the Richard “Dick” Peck Fields at Sherman Park – by winning the District IV Major Division championship.
Matt Schiffman’s home run to left field with one out in the top of the fifth inning and the excellent two-hit pitching of starter Josh DiChiaro and reliever Jason Cabral were the keys to a well-played 1-0 triumph over Lincoln and the team’s first district title since 2002 before a standing-room-only gathering.
Burrillville, which boasts a 6-0 record that had seen the winners outscore their first five opponents by a 64-4 margin, will now set its sights on the four-team, double-elimination Major Division state tournament, which begins Saturday at Randy Hien Field at Lonsdale Park in Lincoln.
Burrillville will battle District II champion Barrington, which won its district crown on Monday with a 13-5 victory over Darlington American at Slater Park, in the 1:45 p.m. finale of a doubleheader that will commence with an 11 a.m. opener pitting the District I and III champions.
A victory by Burrillville will put the locals in Sunday’s 7 p.m. winners’ bracket game, but a defeat means they will have to fight for their postseason lives in a 4:30 p.m. losers’ bracket affair.
“We’re just going to keep doing the things we’ve been doing,” said Burrillville manager Mike Cabral, whose squad becomes the fourth local team in as many years to capture the district crown, joining Lincoln (2009), Cumberland National (2010), and last year’s New England champion, Cumberland American. “We’re going to face some very tough pitching, but we’ll work hard this week and we’ll be ready.”
In order to advance to the state tournament, Burrillville had to top a talented Lincoln team that came into the game with a 5-0 record (outscoring its opposition, 40-9) and a determination to erase the sting from last year’s loss in the district finals to CALL.
While DiChiaro got the ball for Burrillville, Lincoln went with its ace pitcher, Connor Sheehan, who had been lights out throughout the tournament and tossed a few more zeroes on Monday night.
But Sheehan threw more than his share of pitches and had to move to shortstop with one gone in the fourth and his pitch count at 86. He threw 31 in the first inning and 25 more in the second.
“Connor’s one of the best 12-year-old players in the state,” added the Burrillville manager. “We fouled off a lot of pitches and had some very good at-bats, and that was the key.”
DiChiaro, meanwhile, also had a long first inning, tossing 23 pitches, but he didn’t throw more than 19 over the next three innings, and he exited the game with two outs in the fifth after delivering his 86th pitch.
“It was a pitching battle, with both teams working pitch counts,” said the Burrillville manager, “but Josh got us into the fifth inning, and that’s what we were looking for.”
Both Sheehan and DiChiaro were tested in the first inning, but both wiggled out of two-out, bases-loaded jams with strikeouts. Sheehan also got out of a second-and-third, two-out jam with a ‘K’ in the second, and DiChiaro did the exact same in the bottom of the third.
Sheehan, who gave up just one hit, struck out five, and walked four in 3 1/3 innings of work, eventually gave way to reliever Derek Degnan in the fourth, who promptly struck out three of the next four batters he faced.
But in the fifth, he made his only mistake of the night, and it proved to be a costly one, as he threw a low 1-1 fastball to Schiffman that he lofted deep over the fence in left.
Burrillville nearly scored again after that blast, as a walk and an infield error put runners on the corners with one out, but a strikeout and an infield groundout kept the game a one-run affair.
DiChiaro exited the game with two gone and runners on first and second in the bottom of the fifth, but he also did so with some very good numbers to pick up the win. He yielded a pair of base hits (both to Sheehan), struck out seven batters (including five straight), issued three walks, and hit two batters in the helmet with pitches.
Jason Cabral then got Burrillville and DiChiaro out of the sixth-inning jam with a strikeout, and in the final inning, he fanned two more batters and allowed a harmless two-out walk to seal the verdict and pick up a save.
Before the game, both teams gathered along the baselines to pay tribute to Peck, a longtime fixture of the Burrillville Little League, who for the past 44 summers, served several roles, ranging from its president to its treasurer, longtime Major Division All-Star manager, and the head groundskeeper, which he still does to this day.
During the 15-minute ceremony, Peck received the district’s Randy Hien Baseball Excellent Award for his years of tireless service, and a banner was unveiled on the wall of the concession stand in the right-field corner proclaiming the athletic complex the Richard Peck Fields.
“I knew something was up when I saw my 92-year-old mother-in-law here, and I knew she wasn’t coming here for a Little League game,” Peck told the crowd. “This is very humbling. I’m not a war hero or a politician, so just to have a field named after you for 44 years of service is a humbling experience. I am very thankful.”