The dream, and the season, is over.
Fairfield American’s run through the Little League World Series came to a disappointing end Thursday night at Lamade Stadium, as Lufkin, Texas eliminated the New England Region champions 14-4 in a five-inning mercy-rule game.
Fairfield went 3-2 in the World Series, beating Jackson, New Jersey twice 7-6 and 12-2 and beating Walla Walla, Wash., 14-6 and losing twice to Lufkin, 6-3 and 14-4.
Because of rest restrictions on starting pitchers Michael Iannazzo and Ethan Righter, Fairfield American manager Mike Randazzo started Matt Vivano for the first time this season, hoping to find lightning in a bottle. Vivano had pitched eight times in relief, allowing 17 hits and eight runs (a 3.13 ERA), going 2-0. Likewise, Lufkin manager Bud Maddux had to go with Mark Requena, his No. 3 pitcher, as both sides looked to stay alive.
And it was Lufkin that grabbed the momentum and never let it go, scoring eight times in the first – the most runs allowed in a single inning by Fairfield American all summer.
In the bottom of the first, Iannazzo couldn’t handle a hard-hit grounder by Chandler Spencer, who was credited with a single and then Malcolm Deason hit another grounder that Iannazzo misplayed for an error, putting runners on second and third with no outs. Vivona rallied to strike out Hunter Ditsworth but Collin Ross took the first pitch he saw from Vivona over the fence in right center to give Lufkin a 3-0 lead.
Christian Mumphrey – who hit two home runs in Lufkin’s 6-3 win over Fairfield last Sunday – singled to left and Chip Buchanan singled to center, taking second on the throw to third. Mark Requena drew a walk and Mumphery came in to score on a wild pitch to make it 4-0 Texas and when Aidan Rivera chased down the ball and threw to second to try and get Requena, Buchanan scored for a 5-0 Lufkin lead.
Blake Slaga walked to put runners at second and third and after Kolby Kovar struck out, Spencer – batting for the second time in the inning – hit a shot that third baseman Leo Randazzo couldn’t handle for an error to bring home Requena and Slaga and Spencer both scored on Deason’s base hit to make it 8-0 Texas.
Texas kept the medal to the metal in the second as three straight singles, all coming with two outs, from Buchanan, Requena and Slaga, pushed the Lufkin lead to 9-0. That was all for Vivona, who gave way to Troy Ashkinos in relief.
Meanwhile, Requena was solid, allowing just two hits over the first three innings and striking out four as Lufkin was taking control.
Fairfield, to its credit, never quit, scoring twice in the top of the third on a two-run home run from Iannazzo – his 15th of the summer — to cut the gap to 9-2.
But that was as close as Fairfield got. Spencer singled, Deason walked and Ditsworth was hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs in the bottom of the third and Spencer and Deason scored on wild pitches to make it 11-2 and Ditsworth came home on a ground out to make it 12-2 and put the mercy rule into effect.
But pinch-hitter Sean O’Neil kept Fairfield alive with an RBI single in the top of the fourth, staving off the mercy-rule and Vivona’s homer in the fifth cut the gap to 12-4 but Clayton Wigley’s two-run single in the bottom of the fifth, ended the Fairfield American dream.
Fairfield had faced Lufkin on Sunday in the second round of the winner’s bracket last Saturday, falling for the first time this summer 6-3. Pitcher Collin Ross tossed a complete game, allowing just four hits while striking out eight. He retired the last 15 Fairfield batters he faced.