BRISTOL, Conn. — The Bedford Little Leaguers took their slow Eastern Regional start in stride.
Throughout the state and district tournaments, they consistently jumped on the opposition for runs in the first inning. Against South Burlington (Vt.) Friday, they went down in order.
When some well-placed hits fueled a four-run Vermont uprising in the second, manager Kevin Lavigne had to wonder if Bedford was in for one of those days, but the momentum swung quickly.
Connor Zendzian had three hits and Brennan Hughes and Joey Barrett drove in three runs each to lead Bedford to a 13-5 victory in the opening game of the New England championship series at the A. Bartlett Giamatti Leadership and Training Center.
“We scored in the first inning every game up until today, so I think maybe we paused for a second, maybe thinking a little bit too much,” Lavigne said. “When Vermont gets the four runs, it makes you start to think, but like I told the kids after the game, you've got to trust your stuff. ... Although (the runs) came later than usual, they came.”
New Hampshire takes two days off before resuming action on Monday against the Rhode Island champ, Coventry, at 2 p.m. Bedford's game on Tuesday at 1 p.m. against Wellesley, Mass., will be televised on NESN.
Vermont righthander Eamon Sheridan retired the first four Bedford hitters. He walked Hughes and Joey Barrett (2- for-2, two walks) consecutively, but third baseman Michael Flaherty turned a 5-3 double play.
Walks were the key. Bedford drew seven and five turned into runs. Pitchers Grant Lavigne and Tim Saltzman didn't walk a batter.
Joe Quintal began Bedford's three-run rally in the third with a walk. He scored the first run without the benefit of a hit. An error and two fielder's choice grounders did the trick. Bedford's first hit — a two-out RBI double by Alec Burns — was followed by Zendzian's run-scoring single that cut the deficit to 4-3.
Each of the right-handed hitting Zendzian's singles were well hit, to the opposite field.
“When you play on this big field (225 feet to the fence all the way around), you've always got to focus on hitting line drives,” Zendzian said. “Normally we play on 200-foot fields, but you can't change your swing. Coach told us before the game since it's a bigger field, you can't pull the outside pitch. You've got to go with the pitch.”
Leadoff walks by Connor Collins and Grant Lavigne ignited the five-run fifth that sealed the deal. Zendzian, Barrett, Saltzman and Nick Mokas delivered run-scoring hits.
“I think if you have to attach an identity to this team it's the fact that we chew up a lot of pitches,” manager Lavigne said. “A lot of deep counts make pitchers work, the defense gets tired in the field and we try to capitalize on it.”
Left-handed hitting Nate Gaboriault (2-for-3) provided Vermont's last gasp when he belted a solo homer with two out in the fifth, but Bedford answered with another five-spot. Walks to Grant Lavigne and Burns set the table.
Hughes belted a bases-loaded triple to right and scored on a single by Barrett.
“If you pull an outside pitch, most likely you're going to roll over to the shortstop,” said Hughes, whose opposite-field blast fell just short of the fence.
Grant Lavigne earned the win. His dad said his pitching line — four innings, six hits, four runs — didn't tell the story.
“We didn't walk a batter and we were ahead on a lot of the counts,” the manager said. “I think Grant really had a good fastball and kept it down. They hit a few balls that had eyes.”