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In front of a packed crowd at Howard J. Lamade Stadium in Williamsport, PA, Thursday’s opening round game in the 2017 Little League World Series featured a heavyweight battle between the New England region champion Fairfield American Little League (Connecticut) and Mid-Atlantic Champion Holbrook Little League (New Jersey).

Undefeated at 18-0, Fairfield American had been outscoring its opponents 27-4 while Holbrook (20-1) has inflicted the same type of damage offensively, outscoring their opponents 43 to 15. In addition, Holbrook had been averaging 10.8 runs a game.

Both teams’ did not disappoint early on. Fairfield American took an early lead in the first inning on an RBI single by Tyler Bauer. Holbrook left fielder Mike Arent ended the inning robbing Troy Ashkinos of a base hit with a spectacular diving catch. In the bottom half of the frame, it just took one swing for Holbrook to tie the game up as Tai Mann crushed a solo shot over the right field wall.

The back and forth battle continued in the ensuing inning with another terrific defensive play by Holbrook. With Fairfield American’s Aiden Rivera at first base, Andrew Cutler smoked a line drive down the left field line. Attempting to score on the play, Rivera was cut down on a strong throw from Arent to home plate where J.R. Osmond blocked the plate perfectly and applied the tag. With Cutler taking third on the play, Anthony Pollack stepped up and hit a grounder to Holbrook shortstop Chris Cartnick who threw wide of home plate allowing Cutler to score.

Meanwhile, Fairfield American starting pitcher Ethan Righter started to find the strike zone. Facing runners at first and second with two outs in the second, Righter registered back-to-back strikeouts giving him a total of five in the game. In the third, loading up the bases with one out, Sean O’Neil gave Fairfield American a 4-1 advantage drilling a two-run single off Cartnick’s glove.

Holbrook responded in the latter half of the inning with the bases packed and one out, Righter uncorked a wild pitch enabling Cartnick to cross home plate. However, Righter escaped further damage mowing down Charlie Meglio for his seventh strikeout of the contest. Having thrown 87 pitches, Righter departed after 3 2/3 innings.

Fairfield American went to work in the fourth. With runners at first and second, Matthew Vivona (2 for 3, 2 RBI, 2 runs scored) belted a single down the third base line, plating two runs and widening the margin to 6-2.

Holbrook had another golden opportunity in the fifth after placing runners at first and second with nobody out. However, they would run into a roadblock in Michael Iannazzo who retired the side in order by recording back-to-back strikeouts and a ground out as Holbrook continued to struggle with runners in scoring position, going 0-for-7 with five strikeouts.

Seizing upon that momentum, Fairfield American packed the bases with none out in the sixth that led to Bauer driving in his second run of the game with a sharp single to left field, bringing in Righter. On the hill to pitch, Cartnick slammed the door, chalking up consecutive strikeouts and getting Owen Kalagher to ground out.

Down to their last licks in the bottom of the sixth, Holbrook displayed plenty of resiliency. With Arent on first base, Garrett Drew hit a ground ball to third baseman Leo Randazzo who threw wide of the first base bag allowing Arent to come all the way around to score. Mann drove in his second run of the game, hammering a single to right field. Having already hit four home runs in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Tournament, Cartnick unleashed that power once again, blasting a two-run bomb over the left field wall making it a 7-6 game. With two outs and runner at first, Bauer was called upon to pitch and close the door. And, that he did, retiring Meglio on a groundout to end the game.

Fairfield American next plays the Southwest Regional champion Lufkin Little League (Texas) on Sunday at 11:00 a.m. while Holbrook faces off against the Great Lakes Regional champion Gross-Pointe Woods-Shores Little League on Saturday at 3:00 p.m.

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Sunil Sunder Raj

Since July of 2014 Sunil Sunder Raj has been with In The Zone. Sunil has experience covering minor league baseball, high school and college sports. A beat writer for the Rockland Boulders for six years, Ramapo College men’s basketball for four years, NJIT men’s basketball and Seton Hall women’s basketball. Now focusing on feature articles about athletes, coaches and sports media professionals. A graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism.
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