NEW BRITAIN- It was quite the season for the Newington Little League All-Stars.
The team had a fantastic run in the Connecticut Little League State Championship this past weekend, reaching the championship game against Fairfield and finished 2-2 in the final four with both losses to the defending champions.
“There are way worse things that can happen than losing in a championship game and these kids will come to understand that,” Newington manager Ron Fairwood said. “At this age, kids rebound really well. [Soon] they’ll be looking back and thrilled at what they accomplished.”
Fairwood has experienced more than enough Little League baseball in his managerial time to have a feel for how the game develops at the age group. Fairwood has been a Little League manager for 39 years and also serves as a New England team coordinator for the Eastern Regional in Bristol.
According to Fairwood, this year’s group was the best team he has ever managed, capturing a section and district title along the way. While Newington did not advance to Bristol, the players gained invaluable experience playing deep into the state tournament. If the team advanced, it would have been the first Newington team ever to be represented in the Eastern Regional.
In the first game of the final four, Newington faced Ellington. The opening game set the tone of the potential that the Newington lineup had. The team won 12-0 in five innings via the mercy rule. Gabby Tirado and Andrew Bugnacki both hit home runs in the first game.
Alex Bugnacki received the win against Ellington after pitching just one inning. J.T. Gallinoto and Alex Cappellucci then came on in relief and proved to be just as dominant. The duo combined for four scoreless innings to seal the victory, advancing to play Fairfield on Saturday.
Newington had a second win in its sights against Fairfield holding a 4-2 lead going into the sixth and final inning. However, Newington could not hold on, surrendering its lead and losing the game 5-4.
With the loss to Fairfield, Newington was tasked with an elimination game against its first opponent, Ellington. With the team knowing that a win over Ellington could give it a redemption shot against Fairfield in the championship, the motivation to win was evident when Newington ended the game before six innings again, this time a four inning ballgame. The final score was 15-0.
Cappellucci delivered a multi-home run performance. Alex Bugnacki, Shaun Callahan and Vinny Maslauskas also delivered longshots in the contest.
With the win, Newington got its second shot at Fairfield. In order to get to Bristol, Fairwood and his team needed to win two straight against the defending champions who had yet to lose in the final four.
After holding the lead in the first three games, Newington faced an uphill battle in the championship game as Fairfield got off to a 6-0 lead with two homers, a solo shot from Troy Ashkinos and a three-run homer off the bat of Ethan Righter.
With the game nearing an end and two innings left to play, Newington’s spark was finally ignited. Star player, leadoff hitter Alex Cappellucci launched a solo homer to lead off the fifth inning and give Newington its first run of the game. Callahan followed it up with a homer of his own. While the offense coming alive was a welcoming sight for the Newington group, the team needed more than solo home runs and needed it quickly.
In the sixth inning, Cappellucci came up to the plate with a man on base and two outs in the inning. The pressure-filled situation did not phase Cappellucci one bit as he continued his torrid hitting and ripped a two-run shot to put the team within two runs. Unfortunately, the offensive spark from Cappellucci and co. came too late a little too late.
“We tried.,” Fairwood said. “I told them you can’t go home and look in the mirror and say you didn’t try your hardest because every single kid gave everything he had. We just fell a little short.”
Like the whole tournament, the final game came down to which team received more breaks. Wild pitches and errors hurt the Newington group but a deep fly out to the warning track by Tirado with a man on base could have easily gone Newington’s way.
Unfortunately for Newington and Fairwood, the break needed in the championship game was not to be. However, the fight that the Newington team showed while down to its last six outs and needing a daunting six runs to come back can make any opposing player or manager tip its cap in appreciation.
Dan Orencole can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @OrencoleDan