PAWTUCKET — Northern Bernon's summer campaign ended at Pineview's Tomlinson Field on Thursday night, but there were no tears shed and a minimum amount of frowns cast after it dropped a 10-5 decision to Johnston.
Instead, skipper Ron Masse and his assistants chose to accentuate the positives following the championship game of the R.I. Little League Junior Division (13-14) Tournament.
“We gave 'em hell, didn't we?” Masse grinned after his contingent finished the event with a 2-2 mark. “We have a great group of kids and a great group of parents supporting us, and we had a lot of fun. The way I look at it, you can't ask for anything more than that.
“The kids may be a bit unhappy, but they also know they battled them,” he continued. “We all knew it was an uphill battle, facing not only the defending state champions but also the Northeast Regional champions. The thing is, they know they competed, and there's no shame in that. We had fun, and that's what it's all about. We put fun back into the game of baseball.”
Had Northern Bernon escaped with a win, it would've been the invitee to the Little League Northeast Regional Championships, slated for Freehold Township, N.J. this weekend. It instead will be Johnston, a gritty bunch that last season captured that title before finishing with a 2-2 mark at the Little League Junior Division Tournament in Taylor, Mich.
What didn't help Masse's crew were six miscues; it, however, did amass seven hits off of a tandem of opposing pitchers who, at the very least, kept most of the lineup off-balance.
Righty starter Korey Fijal, who had no-hit the Woonsocketers through four frames, allowed just two hits, three runs (two earned) and four walks while fanning five in 4 2/3 innings. His replacement, John Willette, went the rest of the way, yielding five hits, two runs (one earned) and two free bags while whiffing a quartet.
Still, Kyle Beaulieu went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI, while Jonah Houle (two runs scored) and Matt Letourneau (run) both finished 2-for-3. Catcher Alex Denoyelle also walloped a home run to finish 1-for-3 with a RBI and a run.
“They had a couple of guys who could really throw the ball, and we started off a little slow because the kids were nervous,” Masse noted. “We just settled down as time went on and started swinging the bats. Like I said, I'm extremely proud of this team.”
Johnston took a 1-0 advantage right at the outset, when Armani Henderson clubbed a one-out double down the left-field line off of starter Manny Ceballos, and Willette's single up the middle plated him.
Willette later stole second, but Fijal grounded into a pretty 6-3-5 double play to end the frame.
It seemed to poised to at least garner another run in the second after Nick Raposo reached on a two-out infield error and Jake Podaska walked, but Ceballos got Jake Coro to ground to the mound.
Northern Bernon wasn't as fortunate in the third. Mike Caparco led off with a walk, and he moved to second when Henderson reached on third baseman Beaulieu's wide throw to first. Ceballos forced Willette to fly out to center, but Fijal drilled a blast over the 300-foot fence in center for a three-run dinger – and a 4-0 lead.
The Woonsocket squad looked as if it would get on the board in the back half of the third fourth when Ceballos drew a two-out walk and stole second. Denoyelle ripped a shot down the left-field line, but Henderson dove to his right and snared the sinking liner to end the threat.
It didn't let the same thing happen in the fourth, as it sent eight to the plate and rallied for a trio to slice the deficit to 4-3. Jonah Houle broke up Fijal's no-hit bid with a hit to left-center to start the inning, and he took second on a wild pitch. Letourneau followed with a bloop hit to right, sending Houle to third, and the latter scored when Alex Godfrin grounded into a double play.
Sam Hunt then walked and moved to second on defensive indifference, then took third on a passed ball before Beaulieu's single to left plated him. Ceballos then struck out looking on Fijal's stellar breaking pitch.
Four errors resulted in Johnston turning that slight 4-3 cushion into a solid 8-3 lead. Marc Conte started the flurry, reaching on shortstop Hunt's throwing error, and he robbed second. Matt Kennedy walked (Corey Mabray pinch-ran for him), and Emilio Rodriguez poked a ground single to left to score Conte.
Jordan Gillheeney then laid down a terrific sacrifice bunt to move the runners up, and Jake Coro hustled to first on another infield miscue, one that allowed Mabray to race home.
That's when Masse chose to replace Ceballos with Hunt, and Rodriguez moved to third and Coro second on an immediate wild pitch; Caparco's sacrifice fly to center plated the former.
When center fielder Houle's throw home skipped past Denoyelle, Coro scooted to the plate, but Denoyelle's toss to Hunt was bobbled.
Obviously miffed by his own mental error, Denoyelle responded, whacking Willette's fastball 315 feet over the center field fence for a solo dinger. Houle then singled to right, and Letourneau knocked a hit up the middle. Mojica reached on a fielder's choice, and an infield throwing error allowed Houle to score to cut the Johnston advantage to 8-5.
Hunt walked both Willette and Fijal to start the seventh, but Conte's fielder's choice placed runners at the corners. Conte robbed second, and both he and Willette came in on Kennrdy's two-run single.
“We came back to make it 4-3, but then gave 'em four right back; the errors didn't help matters,” the elder Masse stated. “That hurt. If we don't allow those four runs (with the aid of four errors), and Denoyelle comes up and whacks the homer, we tie it up.
“We all knew the cards were stacked against us, but we played tough against a great team,,” he added. “I'm really proud of each and every kid, and our supporters.”
That's when Tournament Director Joe Clarke approached Masse and told him, “You guys are a class act, and it was a pleasure to witness your sportsmanship in this tournament. You're more than welcome here anytime.”
Masse just grinned, then corralled his kids together for a not-so-long trip back home to a Winter Street ice cream shop.