The 14-year-old team dropped a 5-1 decision to Stamford, Conn.
By NATE CROSSMAN
QUINCY, Mass. -- Youngstown should have known Thursday was not going to be its night at the Babe Ruth 14-year-old World Series. The signs were everywhere.
First, Stamford (Conn.) pitcher Steve Rivera, who had not started a game since July 8, carried a four-hit shutout into the sixth inning. Then Youngstown's defense, which had been solid throughout the tournament, began to hemorrhage runs in the second and didn't stop until the seventh.
But if the Ohio Valley region champs still held on to the hope that they would pull off some remarkable comeback, that hope was extinguished in the fifth. That's when Anthony Franceschelli grounded what looked like a single up the middle, only to be cut down at first by Stamford center fielder Sean Mullins.
Stamford in semifinals
Outstanding defense, opportunistic offense and an gutsy pitching performance highlighted the New England champs' 5-1 win, which vaulted them into the semifinals today against Jefferson Parish (La.). Youngstown returns home having gone 3-1 in pool play. Nash County (N.C.) and Tri-Valley (Ca.) will play in the other semifinal at 5:30.
"We weren't getting any of the breaks," Youngstown coach Al Franceschelli said. "But that's the game and sometimes you've got to fight through that. We weren't able to do that tonight. Their pitcher pitched a great game and um uh they made a lot of great plays in the outfield tonight."
Rivera started the first game of the district tournament but lasted only two innings because of a sore back. He made only spot relief appearances in the regional tournament and first game of the World Series before getting the starting nod against Youngstown. He responded by allowing only one run over five-plus innings. He held the top two hitters of Youngstown's lineup, who are crucial to its running game, to a combined 0-for-5 with a walk. If Youngstown did put the ball in play, it was usually in the air, and Stamford's outfield had the answer. Right fielder Nick Cortese made three put-outs, two of them with his back to the infield. Left fielder Jon Torres made a diving catch to squelch a rally in the sixth.
"We just couldn't put our hits together," Franceschelli said. "That's what hurt us more than anything."
Score on wild pitches
While it was holding Youngstown in check on defense, Stamford was pushing the agenda on offense. Leading 1-0 in the second, Stamford used a pair of wild pitches to go ahead by a pair of runs. It scored two more in third on two errors, a sacrifice fly and a sacrifice bunt. Youngstown committed four errors.
"We were just trying everything," Stamford coach Butch LaMotta said. "That's the first squeeze we perfected all year. We were just overly aggressive and let it all hang out."
Shephard hits homer
Youngstown's lone offensive highlight, and perhaps the highlight of the tournament, came in the sixth. Jaymee Shephard, who came into the game 1-for-11, launched a fastball over the 363-foot sign in left field for the only home run of the tournament to cut the deficit to 4-1. Shephard went 2-for-4. Jason Bagoly followed with a single and two outs later Kevin McCulloh singled to bring the tying run to the plate. But Shawn Roman flew out to Torres to end the inning.
After the game the Youngstown team huddled in the dugout before dispersing to see their families and friends. Some of the players remained in the dugout, heads in hands, upset over the end of their season.
"This is the pinnacle of youth baseball and we reached it," Franceschelli said. "We just weren't lucky this time, but sometimes you'd rather be lucky than good. They were luckier tonight but sometimes that's just how the game goes.
"It's a game of breaks and we just didn't get them not tonight. The kids will live this game for a while but they'll get over it."