BRISTOL, Conn. — Lincoln All-Stars’ assistant coach Marty Gaughan Sr. had a feeling his team would face South Burlington, Vt. ace Sammy Premsagar in the third game of this Little League New England Regional Tournament on Monday afternoon.
That’s why he took all necessary measures to prepare the kids offensively.
“They say he’s a real fireballer; that’s why I just spent the last hour pitching batting practice to them,” he said perhaps 40 minutes before the tilt. “I was throwing them 100-mph heaters so they’d be ready.”
Premsagar, however, was more than prepared to face the superb Lincoln lineup. He tossed 5 2/3 frames of four-hit ball while walking just two and fanning six to propel South Burlington’s best to a stunning 8-1 triumph over the Rhode Island champions at Breen Field.
The tall, lanky righty also helped himself at the plate, going 1-for-3 with an RBI and run scored, though he wasn’t alone in that department. No. 3 batter Chance O’Connor went 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI and a run; clean-up hitter Ethan Klesch 1-for-4 with two RBI; Nick Liscinsky 1-for-3 with a run scored; and Max Plunkett 0-1 with two walks and a pair of runs.
“Sammy was awesome,” South Burlington manager Sean McGrath grinned after the win, one that pushed the Vermont champs to 2-1 overall with one preliminary contest left (against Maremont of Saco, Me. at 1 p.m. today, and that will be televised live on NESN).
“He was really dominant, but he’s been the same way all season, both on the mound and at the plate,” he added. “Still, this wasn’t easy. Lincoln is very explosive offensively, and they have some great arms. They can pound the ball, so I wasn’t comfortable at any point.
“Little League Baseball is a momentum game, and that momentum can change at any moment. That’s a very well-coached group they have there, and they’re good kids who know how to play the game. They’ve had success before.
“The way I looked at it, we wanted to go into the TV game with a victory. Our goal was to get the win (Monday) so we’d go into (today) with a little breathing room. We thought the guys would be more comfortable and confident if we could beat a team like Lincoln.”
It was the first defeat Lincoln had suffered since opening this playoff run at 11-0. Those previous verdicts came by a combined score of 127-22.
The Vermonters improved to 11-2 after dropping its Friday opener to Westport, Conn. (9-2) before mustering a 12-2 “mercy-rule” triumph over Rye, N.H.
“What can you say? We lost the game,” Lincoln skipper Matt Netto shrugged before hustling his players off to some interviews with NESN. “We were on a great run and ran into a great pitcher, and just didn’t play that well. It’s baseball, and the ball bounced the other team’s way.
“We’ll come back; I know it,” he continued. “These kids have too much talent and confidence to let a loss like this affect them.”
Offered Gaughan Sr.: “We were bound to have a bad day sometime, and I’m just glad it happened now as opposed to later. We still have a lot of life in us, and I know we’ll get our bats going again.”
Premsagar wouldn’t say exactly what pitches were working best for him, but did admit, “I just felt it. My arm felt good, I wasn’t sore at all and I was prepared to pitch a good game. Coach had been telling me to keep the ball down because Rhode Island could really bomb it. I went with a lot of off-speed stuff.”
Amazingly, he didn’t allow a single, as all four hits went for extra bases.
He did get into a bit of a jam in the first when he walked Steve Andrews and moved to third when Kyle Marrapese drilled a double to the right-center gap, but Connor Benbenek grounded out to the hill to end the threat.
South Burlington didn’t need long to record its first run. Righty starter David Bordieri issued a walk to leadoff batter Max Plunkett, and he raced to second on a wild offering and third on Liscinsky’s groundout before O’Connor plated him with a single to right.
Lincoln fought back to knot it in the second when Dominic Cunha crushed a first-pitch, two-out fastball over the center-field fence, and it seemed ready to forge some offense after Bordieri retired the side in the back half.
Andrews laced a two-out, opposite-field two-bagger in the third, though nothing came of it – not until Vermont exploded for four in the third to break the game open.
Actually, the surge (10 went to the plate) started with Bordieri fanning No. 9 batter Max Guyette, but then he walked Plunkett. When Liscinski knocked a comebacker to the mound, Bordieri wheeled and threw to second, but it was a bit off target.
Both moved up on another wild pitch, and O’Connor whacked a grounder at first baseman Cunha. The bad-hopper went for a two-run single, and Netto immediately decided to send in reliever Andrews.
“I’m pretty sure it was a 2-0 fastball, and I thought (Cunha) would reach out and get it, but he missed,” O’Connor said. “When I looked up, I was, like, ‘Yessss!’”
Still with one out, Klesch poked a grounder to short off of Andrews, and Bordieri – who had moved there – eventually gloved it but couldn’t make the play. The manager later took him out with a right-pinkie injury.
“The ball bent his finger back,” assistant Gordon Zaniol explained. “We’re just going to rest it; he’ll be fine.”
Premsagar then plated O’Connor on a ground single to left, and Ben Tate blooped a hit to center, though Klesch was thrown out at third. Greg Knowles also drew a free bag to load them, and Kevin Kevin Papariello’s pinch-hit single to left scored Premsagar for the 5-1 lead.
South Burlington notched another two in the fourth after Plunkett blooped a hit to right and Andrews hit Liscinsky with a delivery; both advanced on a passed ball, and Klesch’s single to center plated both.
In the interim, Premsagar had retired eight of nine (including Andrews’ third-frame double) until he yielded a walk to Tyler Santilli in the fifth. He later moved to second on Nathan Kumar’s grounder to short, but he struck out Larisa to escape the inning.
The victors registered their last run in the fifth when Papariello beat out a swinging bunt hit, and pinch-runner John Thibeault stole second before hustling to third on a wild pitch. Ryan Sargent walked, and Netto replaced Andrews with righty Blake Zaniol.
Plunkett’s fielder’s choice grounder pushed in Thibeault, though Lincoln left fielder Patrick Gribbin made a made a pair of splendid snags off the bats of O’Connor and Klesch to squelch the rally.
Andrews did start the sixth with his second two-bagger, and tagged to third on Benbenek’s long fly to right. That forced McGrath to pull Premsagar, who had reached 87 pitches (the limit per tilt is 85). He brought in Liscinsky, who walked Zaniol before getting Gribbin looking.
“I told the kids before the game that we had to get on them early,” McGrath said. “I told them to bat with confidence and go out there and have some fun. I wanted them to value each and every pitch, and – well – it worked.”
Stated Liscinsky: “This is really exciting because Rhode Island is one of the better teams here. Now they’re tied with us (with a 2-1 mark), but we own the tiebreaker. With the win, now we know we can play with any other team.”
The elder Zaniol admitted that third inning, with two miscues, was more than uncharacteristic for this Lincoln crew.
“It was just one of those games that didn’t go our way,” he noted. “It was going to happen soon or later. Hopefully, the loss will put some fire into our bellies. We’ll learn from it, go back to work and we’ll seal it Wednesday.”
That’s when it will battle Rye, N.H. in its final prelim; it’s slated for 1 p.m., and to be televised by NESN.
“If we had played our game, it would’ve been closer,” Coach Zaniol mentioned of Lincoln stranding five of six baserunners in scoring position. “The kids know what happened, and they know what to do. We’re not going to change anything, but you can’t take anything away from their pitcher.
“He was phenomenal. Like I said, we’re just going to go back to work, and hopefully we’ll dial it up with more hits against New Hampshire.”