ELLINGTON — Holding court with the media after pitching the Manchester National Little League team to the Connecticut Section 4 championship, Jack Stokes found himself on the receiving end of a bucket of ice-cold water, courtesy of his rather grateful teammates.
Before getting back to the matter of recapping his special day in Manchester National’s 5-1 win over previously undefeated Woodstock/Putnam on Saturday at Brookside Park, the soft-spoken Stokes was asked by one of the curious onlookers how he was feeling.
“Cold,” Stokes deadpanned.
Cold was the ideal choice of words to describe how he pitched into the sixth inning and limited a hard-hitting Woodstock/Putnam squad to a pair of singles.
Stokes’ off-speed pitches tied up the Woodstock/Putnam hitters, especially in the key moments as the District 12 champions were 1 for 8 with runners on base.
Stokes was at his best when Woodstock/Putnam loaded the bases with nobody out in the top of the third inning with the heart of the lineup coming to the plate.
No. 3 hitter Carter Morissette, who homered in a 4-2 win over Manchester National in Wednesday’s Section 4 opener, had singled up the middle in the first inning. Now he had a chance to give his team the lead after a pair of walks and a Noah Sampson single loaded the bases. Morissette swung at Stokes’ first offering and chopped the ball to first baseman Mason Breton. Breton beat Morissette to the bag and while the tying run scored, more than a few members of Manchester National’s cheering section must have breathed a sigh of relief.
“I pitched him backwards and threw curveballs to him so it was harder to hit the ball out,” Stokes said. “That could have blown the game open right there.”
Stokes needed just four pitches to retire Morissette, Riley O’Brien and Clinton Kallgren.
Woodstock/Putnam would manage just one more runner the rest of the way as Stokes and Stew Harrington, who came on in the sixth to record the final two outs, induced six ground-ball outs and nine outs recorded by the infield in the final four innings.
“A lot of these guys are pitchers in the regular season,” Manchester National manager Dan Diehl said. “We haven’t had to use Jack, but he came out and just threw a gem. He threw about 15 pitches the other day against these guys and kept them a little bit off balance. We knew we could bring him in, he could use his breaking stuff to keep them off balance. We knew we were going to have to score a few runs but he threw fantastic.”
Stokes delivered the first run of the game with an RBI grounder in the first inning. After Stokes worked out of the only jam he faced, his teammates wasted little time in giving him a lead to work with.
In the bottom of the third inning Easton Masse, who reached base in all three plate appearances, singled. One out later Alex Pelletier delivered the game’s lone extra-base hit with a two-run double. Harrison would add an RBI single and eventually score on an error to put the District 8 champions ahead 5-1.
That was plenty of offense for Manchester National, which advances to the Connecticut Little League State Championship tournament beginning Wednesday in East Lyme.
Manchester National took the most intriguing path among the four teams vying for the state title.
After losing to Woodstock/Putnam in the first game, Manchester National trailed Moosup/Plainfield by six runs after four innings. Manchester National scored four runs in the fifth inning and two more in the sixth to stave off elimination in the tournament and send the game into extra innings. Harrison’s two-run homer in the seventh inning gave Manchester National the improbable 10-8 victory and spot in Saturday’s title game.
“I felt like we had to win today because of what we did yesterday,” Stokes said.
Manchester National will face Section 3 winner Madison in the state tournament opener on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., followed by Section 1 winner Fairfield American meeting Section 2 champ Wallingford.
MANCHESTER NATIONAL 5, WOODSTOCK/PUTNAM 1
(at Brookside Park, Ellington)
Woodstock/Putnam 001 000- 1 2 2
Manchester National 104 00x- 5 5 0
Carter Morissette, Riley O’Brien (4) and Clinton Kallgren; Jack Stokes, Stew Harrison (6) and Easton Masse. WP: Stokes; LP: Morissette.