BRISTOL - Jake Mather had been producing all tournament for Rhode Island but he was still looking for his first home run.
In the Little League New England Regional championship game against Massachusetts, Mather delivered that allusive hit, a game-deciding solo homer to left field in the top of the fifth inning off Massachusetts starting pitcher Evan Blake.
It led Rhode Island past Massachusetts 3-2 Sunday at Breen Field and punched Rhode Island’s ticket to Williamsport, Pa. for the Little League World Series.
“That was an enormous game changer,” Rhode Island manager Lou Simon said. “He had been taking some good swings. He was due for a big home run. He hadn’t hit one in awhile. He’s been all over the ball so I knew it was a matter of time until he barreled one up and drove one.”
Mather finished the game 3-for-3 with the home run and a pair of runs scored. In the tournament Mather hit .668 in 16 at-bats.
It’s the fourth time in the past five years that a Rhode Island team has won the New England Regional and advanced to the Little League World Series.
Logan Lama delivered a big time pitching performance for Rhode Island in his first start of the tournament. He pitched 4 2/3 innings, allowing two earned runs, three hits, walked five and struck out five.
“He went out there and did his job,” Simon said. “I think we were fortunate to get some calls that maybe could have gone either way but he went out and threw strikes and challenged the Pittsfield team and put pressure on them.”
Massachusetts had two chances in the bottom of the sixth inning to strike but both were done in by aggressive base running. Cam Sime and Owen Salvatore were both thrown out trying to advance to second base.
Sime fell rounding first base and Salvatore was thrown out trying to advance on a ball that got past Rhode Island first baseman Kody Fretts.
“You never can fault a player for being aggressive,” Massachusetts manager Joe Skutnik said. “From day one we’ve always said, ‘I’m never going to yell at you for trying for the extra base if it’s a wise move.’ It was a little bit of bad luck for Cam with first base dislodged, what are you gonna do. And then I couldn’t see the play when Owen went to second because we’re on that side [of the field] so I couldn’t see where the ball went. But you can’t complain about trying to be aggressive and giving 100 percent.”
Sime also had a bad hop at shortstop, which led to Rhode Island scoring the first two runs of the game in the top of the third inning.
Massachusetts scored its two runs off walks from Lama, who lost his control in the third inning with four walks. Ben Jacob and Evan Blake scored the two runs for Massachusetts.
Blake, Massachusetts most dangerous hitter in the tournament, finished 1-for-1 with a single and two walks. He was intentionally walked in the bottom of the third inning.
Fretts, Tommy Turner and Will Owens had the other hits for Rhode Island.
Jake Duquette, Sime and Roshan Warriar had the rest of the hits for Massachusetts.
Anthony Colucci came in to close the game for Rhode Island with a steady 1 1/3 innings, allowing just one hit.
Blake pitched five innings for Massachusetts, allowing three earned runs and striking out eight.
Sime pitched a scoreless eighth inning in relief of Blake.
Rhode Island will look to replicate its success at the Little League World Series and the group believes it is just getting started.
“I don’t know if we’re going to say mission accomplished,” Simon said. “With these guys, I don’t think there’s any mission accomplished. We have to keep going and I think we can still compete down in Williamsport. So we’re going to reset our mission once we get down there and keep competing.”
Dan Orencole can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org