Falmouth Little Leaguers produce thrills for a lifetime
While Falmouth's Little League baseball team ultimately couldn't punch its ticket to Williamsport, Penn., the site of the Little League World Series, it still managed to make a powerful statement at the recent New England regional championship in Bristol. Conn.
That a team from Maine can do quite well, thank you very much.
Falmouth, the District 6 and state champion, reached the semifinals before bowing out in an extra inning epic, on the New England Sports Network no less, and Andrew Arnoldo, Connor Coffin, Sean Dilworth, Brady Douglas, Carson James, Ike Kiely, Josh LeFevre, Sam Manganello, Jackson Quinn, Nate Rogers, Michael Simonds and Alex Smith are still basking in their new-found celebrity.
"It was pretty cool," said Simonds, a key pitcher and hitter for the squad. "We pretty much lived the dream. Most kids won't have a chance to do anything on TV and we had a chance to play on NESN. I didn't have an idea how big it was at home until my brother showed me his Twitter feed and my Mom sent me emails. I think we're all pretty happy still. It's the farthest a Falmouth team ever went."
Falmouth was ousted in gutwrenching fashion in the District 6 tournament a year ago, but got over that hump this summer, then won the state title by coming from behind to beat Saco in the finale.
Falmouth then made the trip to Connecticut knowing it wasn't highly touted, but that it had nothing to lose and that it was determined to turn heads.
"I had no idea what we were up against," said Falmouth manager Matt Rogers. "We were predicted to get slaughtered every game. We were playing against towns who had upwards of 30,000 people. Maine's always an underdog, but I always tell these guys we don't go to a tournament unless we try to win."
The Falmouth players spent their down time playing wiffle ball and Xbox, getting to know kids from other teams, visiting Lake Compounce (the nation's oldest continually operating amusement park) and getting at tour of ESPN, but when it was time to play ball, they were all business.
Falmouth made an immediate statement, rallying to beat Goffstown, N.H., 3-2, in the opener of round-robin pool play. Smith played the hero in that win. With the prospect of being the hard-luck loser after a solid pitching effort, Smith ended the game with an epic two-out, two-run "walkoff" home run in the bottom of the sixth.
"It was pretty awesome to see the ball go over the wall and watch everyone fly out of the dugout and go crazy," Smith said. "It made a statement that we weren't just there to have fun. We wanted to compete and win. No one thought Maine was good, but we knocked off one of the better teams in the first game."
Falmouth wasn't able to maintain its momentum, however, falling, 10-0, to powerhouse Fairfield, Conn., then losing again, 10-4, to Williston, Vt., necessitating a win in the finale to stay alive.
In its first game on NESN, Falmouth rose to the occasion, beating Barnstable, Mass., 9-4, behind a three-run home run from Simonds, a clutch two-run hit from Douglas, on his 13th birthday, and another strong pitching effort from Smith.
Falmouth then had to wait until the final games of the round robin were played the following day to see if it would advance and who it would play and it eventually wound up ranked third, setting up a showdown with Cumberland, R.I. in the single-elimination semifinal round.
There, last Thursday, again on NESN, Falmouth proved once and for all just how special it was.
Trailing 3-0, it appeared the end was near, but Smith hit an RBI single and Simonds cracked a two-run single to tie the game, 3-3. After Rhode Island went back on top, 4-3, Falmouth was down to its final chance in the bottom of the sixth, but Kiely got on base and Manganello came through in the clutch, ripping a single to make it 4-4 and force extra innings.
Falmouth couldn't push across the winner in either the sixth or the seventh innings, however, and the game went to the eighth, where Rhode Island erupted for nine runs to finally end the dream, 13-4.
"We were all pretty depressed, but I kept thinking to make it so far from a small town in Maine was pretty good," said Nate Rogers, the coach's son, who had a remarkable seven RBI in the state final victory over Saco. "It was a pretty cool feeling. Our chemistry was really good. We all got along."
"We're definitely a special group," Smith said. "Everyone is really talented. Sure, we wish we could have won, but it was still incredible to go this far."
"We're depressed we can't play in this age group anymore, but we know we can still play together and win more state championships," said Simonds.
Matt Rogers, who has known great success on the diamond at Cheverus High School, Bowdoin College and later as a coach, had nothing but high praise for his charges.
"This is the best a Falmouth team has ever done," he said. "I'm told Falmouth won states in 1953 and 1992, so this was the third time. I was told we wound up ranked third out of 2,200 teams (nationwide). We gave everything we had. The guys did awesome. There have been a lot of great Falmouth players and teams who haven't gotten through the district, much less the state tournament. There was a different hero every day. This group has played together since they were 5, 6 or 7. They'll play together many more times. I've told them if they stick together and keep supporting each other, they'll have a lot of fun."
Oh by the way, Rhode Island went on to defeat Connecticut in the championship game to advance to Williamsport, meaning Falmouth truly was close enough to taste the biggest stage in youth baseball.
Even though it won't take part in the Little League World Series, rest assured, Falmouth will be watching.
"We've watched the Little League World Series in previous years and it seemed so distant," Matt Rogers said. "Now it's like, 'Wow. We were right there.'"