By Rich Fisher
July 8: While his team was celebrating its first District 12 Little League championship in 42 years, the first thing Lawrence manager Sean Kelly wanted to do was praise the squad his boys just vanquished.
“I really want to start by thanking HTRBA,” said Kelly, whose team took a 3-2, 7-innng walk-off win over the Mercerville Maulers in today’s 12-year-old district final. “They have great coaches, great kids, and they were fabulous. They hosted a beautiful tournament. Everybody was just unbelievable. I’m so thankful they hosted us.”
Kind words aside, it was a bitter ending for HTRBA, which won its first three games of the tournament and needed to win just one of two these past two days to claim its second straight district crown.
But it dropped a 10-inning affair Saturday and was one out away from winning today before a throwing error allowed the tying run to score with two outs in the bottom of the sixth.
Even after that, manager Mike Septak was optimistic.
“When we came up in the seventh inning we had the top of our order up,” Septak said. “I thought we were gonna score some runs. We just couldn’t produce.”
HTRBA’s defense abandoned it at the wrong time, as the home team made five errors and all three Lawrence runs were unearned.
In the first, Gio Brogle reached on an error and scored on a wild pitch. During that play, pitcher Noali Ortiz hurt his leg and head covering the plate, but remained in the game to pitch well. Ortiz scattered six hits and was a human escape artist as Lawrence left 11 on base, including nine in scoring position.
“He was hurting a little bit,” Septak said. “He settled down once we scored two runs. He settled in and did his thing.”
“He got banged up on that play,” Kelly noted. “He stayed in the game and pitched great. All the credit to him.”
Ortiz started HTRBA’s go-ahead rally in the third when his one-out single was followed by singles from Dan Leon, Aidan Scannon and Chris Babkowski; with the last two bringing home runs.
But in the sixth, Brogle hit a two-out single, went to second on a wild pitch and scored on an error. In the seventh, John Gorden hit a leadoff double and, with two outs, scored on a dropped ball.
And while being in the finals for two consecutive years is cause for celebration by HTRBA, losing two extra-inning games that could have meant a title made it tough to take.
“It takes the wind out of your sails a little bit,” Septak said. “These boys battled, they battled hard. I’m very proud of where they came from, only being together for two weeks. It’s still a pretty good feeling.”