|Blake, Salvatore Key Pittsfield 13s in Babe Ruth World Series Opener|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires.com Sports|
03:03PM / Thursday, August 08, 2019
WESTFIELD, Mass. -- The Pittsfield Babe Ruth 13-year-old All-Stars may have been a little tight at the start of Thursday’s opener at the World Series.
By the end, they showed just how well equipped this team is to play in tight games.
Owen Salvatore doubled home the winning run in the top of the sixth, and Evan Blake and Brayden Gutzmer combined to strike out 10 in a 2-0 win over the Mid-Atlantic champions from Centre County, Pa., at Bullens Field.
“Of course, we all have nerves, but not as much as there used to be,” Blake said after going 5-⅔ innings on the mound to earn the win.
Pittsfield manager Paul Brindle said the experience like last year’s run to the finals of the Little League New England Regional was a big plus in games like Thursday’s.
“The real advantage that we have is that most of these kids have been huge games already as 11-year-olds, 12-year-olds and now 13-year-olds. That’s pretty impressive for young kids to have so many big games already in their lives.
“I think it helps where an Evan Blake is on the mound with second and third and one out, and he knows, ‘OK, I gotta pound the zone, and if they put it in play, I know my guys are going to make the play.’ So that was great.”
Pittsfield played error-free defense behind Blake and Gutzmer, who combined to leave 10 men on base.
The Keystone Staters had at least one man on base in every inning -- the sixth -- when Blake picked up his eighth strikeout and Gutzmer came on to get the final out looking at a called third strike.
Blake and Centre County’s Brayden Kormanic battled through the first five innings of play.
After throwing 75 pitches, Kormanic departed with one out in the fifth, and reliever Tyler Serb walked a pair before getting a comebacker to the mound to keep it a scoreless game.
In the top of the sixth, Serb continued to cruise, getting a ground ball to short and a swinging third strike to start the inning.
But with two out and a 2-0 count, PIttsfield catcher Antonio Scalise dropped a ball just inside fair territory about 20 feet up the line past third base. He ended up on second base for Salvatore, who crushed a ball to left that tipped off the outfielder’s glove, allowing pinch-runner Ben Jacob to score the winning run.
“We were very hyped,” said Blake, who earlier had tripled for Pittsfield. “We were really super happy, happy to get the go-ahead run.”
“I said to the guys, that’s baseball,” Brindle said of Scalise’ two-out hit to start the winning rally. “You hit the ball hard, hit it right on the button, and they were playing great defense. Their shortstop made some great plays.
“But all of a sudden, in baseball, you get one of those little bloops, you get an error, and that can decide a game.”
In the top of the seventh, Tommy Mullen worked a one-out walk and stole second before Nick Brindle drove him in with a two-out single down the left-field line to give Gutzmer a little bit of breathing room.
He allowed the leadoff man aboard to start the bottom of the frame but retired the next three in orde -- the last on a ground ball to Christian Salzarulo at short.
If Pittsfield did have any jitters going into this one, they showed up in the early innings with runners in scoring position.
The first two batters of the game -- Brindle and Salzaraulo -- each singled, but they were left at second and first, respectively, after Kormanik got three fly ball outs.
Pittsfield went on to leave runners on base in all but one inning -- the third -- when Centre County turned the game’s only double play on a ground ball to third.
Maybe Pittsfield’s best chance to score came in the fourth when Blake led off with a towering triple to right-center, but Kormanik struck out the next two and got the final out on a grounder to the left side.
Paul Brindle said the early missed opportunites did get a little frustrating.
“What we’ve been working on, especially in practice is seeing some pitches, having at-bats that matter to help your teammates, as well, so we can see what the guy is throwing,” he said. “So we were very patient, but then when we needed a hit or we needed the ball on the ground, we just couldn’t come through with it.
“What I was saying as the game went on, was … ‘Guys, we’re not looking for the big hit. We’re looking for you to put the ball in play, even if that means giving yourself up, to get a run in.’ When we have guys in scoring position, I don’t need you to hit a home run or a gapper. I need to you to put the ball in play, make the other team make a play, and hopefully we can get some runs.”
Eventually, Pittsfield generated just enough offense to make the most of a strong defensive start to the tournament.
“I was really happy with the first outing, especially with the way we pitched and the way we played defense,” Brindle said. “And we played seven innings of baseball.”
Pittsfield finished the first day atop the standings in the World Series’ National Division pool. The top three teams in each of two five-team pools after round-robin play concludes Monday will continue on to the tournament’s bracket-play stage.