BRISTOL — The tears came, just as Mike Randazzo thought they would. The manager of the Fairfield American Little League team wiped them away with a wave of his hand as he watched from the dugout as his players jumped up and down, celebrating like … well, like little kids.
The journey is complete. Fairfield American is headed to Williamsport, Pa., and the 2017 Little League World Series after completing an undefeated run through district, sectional, state and regional play with a 10-0 victory over South Portland, Maine, on Saturday in front of an estimated crowd of 4,500 at Breen Field at the A. Bartlett Giamatti Little League Leadership Training Facility.
“Absolutely, (the tears) came out. It’s unbelievable … these boys worked so hard,” Randazzo said in a postgame news conference surrounded by his 14 players. “It feels unbelievable. To add to the legacy of Fairfield American, to join the 2010 and 2012 teams (going to Williamsport), all the coaches that have come through this program — it’s just unbelievable how this feels.”
Last year, Fairfield American reached the New England Region championship, only to lose to Rhode Island. Two players on last summer’s team, Matt Vivona and Michael Iannazzo, had to live with that ache for a year.
“Today … it feels a lot better than last year,” Vivona said with a smile.
And it was Iannozza and Vivona — along with starting pitcher Ethan Righter — who carried Fairfield American to the title. Iannozza hit a pair of two-run doubles, driving home four runs. He also scored twice. Vivona had a two-run double of his own, finishing 3-for-4 on the day. Righter had two hits, scored two runs and pitched into the fifth, allowing just four hits while striking out nine.
“He grinded it out, right?” Randazzo said of Righter. “He wasn’t hitting all his spots today, but I’ll tell you, the kid’s a bulldog. I’d put him up there with any pitcher in the country right now. You put him on the mound and he will battle through whatever he has to do.”
“I was just trying to make them put the ball in play,” Righter said with a shrug. “We were looking to go inside and jam them the whole game to try and get groundouts.”
Fairfield won nine straight games to win the District 2 title and then swept three-game series to win the Section 1, state and New England crowns. On Thursday, Fairfield will face the Mid-Atlantic Region champ at 3 p.m. at Lamade Stadium, in a game televised by ESPN. Win, and Fairfield would face the winner of the West Region-Northwest Region game Sunday at 11 a.m. Lose, and Fairfield would play Saturday in a losers-bracket game at 3 p.m.
“I’m just so happy for the boys, happy for the families and happy for the league,” Randazzo said.
In the bottom of the first, Maine’s Nolan Hobbs crushed a pitch over the left-field foul pole that was called foul. A review did not overturn the call. Instead of a two-run homer (and a Maine lead), Hobbs grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.
“What I saw was a fair ball … tough moment,” Maine manager Jim Poole said. “That’s a potential game-changer. Sometimes, things just don’t go your way, but you have to keep fighting.”
In the third, Fairfield grabbed the lead when Leo Randazzo singled and moved to second on Righter’s single, and both scored on Iannazzo’s double down the left-field line. A wild pitch brought home Iannazzo for a 3-0 lead.
“I was just trying to get some runs on the board,” Iannazzo said. “Try and make something happen.”
Fairfield got another break in the bottom of the third when Maine loaded the bases with two outs and Righter missed with three straight pitches to Richie Gilboy, a pitch away from walking in a run. Righter kept his composure and got out of the jam by getting Gilboy to ground out.
“He just missed it. If there was anyone I was going to give the swing sign to, it was him,” Poole said. “We needed to get something going and that didn’t go our way.”
An RBI double from pinch hitter Sean O’Neil and a two-run double from Iannazzo pushed the Fairfield lead to 7-0 (Iannazzo scored on an error), and in the sixth, a two-run double from Vivona and an RBI single from Christian Smith gave Fairfield all the runs they needed.
“We lost to a phenomenal baseball team,” Poole said. “All those (Fairfield) players and coaches had a lot of class and I was pleased to be on the field with them. If you’re going to lose to somebody, tip your cap to them.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Michael Iannazzo. His two-run double in the third broke a scoreless tie, and his two-run double in the fourth gave Fairfield American a 7-0 cushion. He finished with four RBIs and scored two runs.
Sean O’Neil. Batting in the No. 9 spot, he pinch-hit in the fourth and lined an RBI double before coming around to score. In the sixth, he singled to right center and scored, finishing 2-for-2 with two runs scored and an RBI. Not bad.
“Let me tell you about South Portland … unbelievable. They have just 33 boys in their major’s division and they made the regional finals here. That is unbelievable. (Manager) Jim Poole, (coach) James Gilboy and (coach) Joe Wright, tremendous job with those boys.” — Fairfield American manager Mike Randazzo
FAIRFIELD AMERICAN 10, MAINE 0
FAIRFIELD AMERICAN 003 403 — 10 13 1
MAINE 000 000 — 0 4 1
Records: Fairfield American (18-0, 3-0); Maine (12-3, 4-2)
Batteries: FA — Ethan Righter (W, 8-0). Tyler Bauer (5) and Aidan Rivera; M — Andrew Heffernan (L), Aiden Lee (5), Richie Gilboy (6) and Richie Gilboy, Nolan Hobbs (4)