STAMFORD — If you keep the door open long enough, eventually someone is going to get in. The Housatonic Valley Senior Babe Ruth team learned that lesson the hard way Monday when they failed to capitalize on countless opportunities and let the New England regional title and a trip to the Senior Babe Ruth World Series slide through their fingertips.
Housatonic Valley, which is composed of players from Naugatuck, Seymour and Shelton, faced off against Eastern Massachusetts. Housatonic came out on top of the winner’s bracket and needed only one win at Cubeta Stadium in Stamford to clinch the title.
Even after the Housatonic players suffered a loss in the first game, they were not eliminated. They would only bow out if Eastern Mass. was able to sweep both games, a scenario which was improbable when the finals started on Monday and looked to be all but impossible on a few separate occasions later in the afternoon. Somehow, though, it happened, and Housatonic collapsed to Eastern Mass., surrendering a title that had seemed to be all but theirs.
In the first game, Housatonic struggled to get hits. Eastern Mass. pitcher Alex Teal threw a complete-game four-hitter and was strong throughout. Housatonic did get runners on base via walks and errors, but they struggled to plate runs, leaving the bases loaded and runners in scoring position on several occasions.
“In the first game we just never adjusted,” Housatonic Manager Bob Neth Sr. said. “Their pitcher threw a great game. We got guys on but it wasn’t clicking, and we didn’t get them across.”
In the second game, the Housatonic Valley bats came alive. The squad put up 12 runs behind 15 hits and eight walks. Eric Christensen and Evan Peck were outstanding at the top of the order, recording four hits apiece, and Mike Kennedy added a colossal two-run home run in the third.
The offensive outburst was not enough, however.
On two separate occasions Housatonic took seemingly insurmountable leads: 8-2 in the third inning and 12-7 in the fifth, only to relinquish both and let Eastern Mass back into the game.
“I was thinking, ‘Can we just put the hammer down, just once?” Neth said. “We hit their pitchers hard but they stuck around and battled back and we just couldn’t put a stop to their scoring.”
Housatonic Valley had a chance to build on its lead in the sixth, smacking three singles against Eastern Mass reliever Nate Wikowski, but was unable to get a run across. In the bottom half, just six outs from elimination, Eastern Mass. tallied the equalizer on a fielder’s choice ground ball to the shortstop with the bases loaded.
Housatonic had yet another chance to strike, with things all tied up in extra innings. Dan McCue led off the eighth with a single up the middle, and was moved to second on the sacrifice bunt by pitcher Scott Cardello. In the next at-bat, McCue scampered to third on a passed ball, and with only one out, the go-ahead run was 90 feet away. Once again, though, a potential run was stranded in scoring position as Wikowski battled back to strike out the next two batters.
In the bottom half of the inning Eastern Mass. ended the back-and-forth, scoring once and for all. After a walk to Teal, lefty-swinging Mike Owens launched a two-run home run to right-center, giving Eastern Mass. the 14-12, walk-off win.
“In the end it was a battle of hits, and they got a few more,” Neth said. “We are two great teams, that’s why we’re both here. I’m not surprised that it went down to the wire like it did.”
The two teams were both talented, but there was a slight David and Goliath feeling circling around the final.
Eastern Mass. defied the odds to inscribe their name on the championship trophy. The team played seven games in five days, including three in a whirlwind 21-hour span to close the tournament. They lost one player to injury, and three—yes three—more due to personal matters, bringing the amount of available roster players to 10.
“We are just so resilient,” Eastern Massachusetts Manager George Alexander said. “We came into the game dead tired, with limited arms, hurting and pretty much running on fumes. We knew if we were going to find a way to win this game it was going to have to be a slugfest like this. It’s really a miracle thing that everything worked out the way it did.”
Eastern Mass will travel to Newark, Ohio, the site of the Senior Babe Ruth World Series, for a ten-team, two-division tournament from which a national champion will emerge.
For Housatonic Valley, the season comes to a close, but not without optimism and resolve.
“We had great kids and a great team this year,” Neth said. “We improved upon last year’s season, and I’m hoping we can do the same next year.”