FAIRFIELD >> Fairfield American Little League head coach Mike Steed points to the Division 1 Championship game against Norwalk less than two weeks ago as one of his favorite moments of the summer.
It was when Jamie Flink cranked a 2-run home run to give Fairfield the go-ahead runs and eventually propel them to victory.
“It’s his third home run of the game, and some kids might have hot-dogged it, but he sprinted around the bases so he could get back in the dugout and celebrate with his friends,” Steed said. “It wasn’t an individual achievement, it was a team achievement. That’s the intangible that this team has.”
For these 12-year-olds, baseball is still a game that is defined by pure fun. It’s a game they love to play with their friends.
A majority of the 11 members on the roster have played together for the last four years. This group won the state title last summer.
“We really know each other,” said Brian Howell, who plays infield and pitches. “We’re like a family pretty much.”
That cohesiveness is something that has set this group apart and been a big asset this season. It’s been a rocky road at times in July, from losing their first game of the summer to Norwalk, having their home practice facility vandalized, and playing in two elimination games, this group has been resilient to the core.
“They love performing together and everything they do is an achievement for the team,” Steed said.
After winning the state title over the weekend, a two-game sweep of South Windsor, Fairfield prepares for its biggest challenge to date, the New England Regional in Bristol.
Starting Friday, Fairfield (12-1) will play Williston of Vermont at 8:15 p.m. in their first of four pool play games.
The top four teams of the six in the region then advance to a playoff format that begins next Thursday. The winner of the region punches a ticket to the Little League World Series.
“It’s going to be tough, there are a lot of good teams,” Howell said. “We’re just going to have to work together and try and pull through.”
The biggest obstacle for the team is their schedule of three straight games – Friday, Saturday and Sunday and the task of managing pitchers and pitch count.
“Our philosophy hasn’t been to hold anything back,” Steed said. “Whatever our best pitcher is available we’re going to go with it. And try and manage pitch count and availability over the first three days is going to be tough, so hopefully our starters can go long and give us a chance to use the relievers sparingly.”
Fairfield’s ace is PJ Egan, who went four full innings last Sunday to collect the win over South Windsor. Fairfield also possesses strong backups. Sam Davenport threw a two-hitter last Saturday in the opening state game. Jamie Flink has been a reliable arm as well as hard-throwing reliever Brian Howell. Steed said they’ve been working in the bullpen and have a few other arms to throw in the mix.
“I feel like we do have the depth, but you never know based on the scenarios of the game,” Steed said. “I do know that every team is going to have an ace and would expect the first game that they’ll have their best pitcher out there.”
One of the challenges that Fairfield presents to opponents is a balanced and disciplined offense.
“Our whole lineup up and down is deep,” Egan said. “We can all drive it.”
“There are no easy outs in the lineup,” Steed added. “I think the boys have learned to make adjustments.”
Along with a tight defense, Fairfield could be a tough out. Fairfield American as a program last won the regional title in 2012.
“I’ve seen a lot of Fairfield teams go to Bristol and it looks like a lot of fun,” Egan said.
Along with a lot of baseball, as the team spends the week in Bristol starting this Thursday, Egan and Howell said they have a few other plans.
“(We’re bringing) the Xbox, games and movies,” Egan said with a smile.