ORANGE, July 27 – This journey began four years ago when a group of young baseball players in Canton came together to form an All-Star team to play in the District 6 tournament. It ended on Saturday in the state finals.
The first Little League team from Canton to play for a state championship was beaten by defending state champion Tolland, 8-0, in the Junior Division (ages 13-14) title game in Orange.
The team, known as Canton/Granby, had won four straight games to earn a spot in the final against Tolland, a team that had won each of previous state tournament games by over 10 runs each.
A night earlier, Canton/Granby pitcher Pete Myers tossed a no-hitter against Edgewood of Bristol in a 2-0 decision. On just 94 pitches, Myers struck out 14 and retired 21 batters.
But Tolland (7-0, 4-0 state tournament) is an outstanding championship team. From the start, they kept the pressure on Canton/Granby scoring single runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings before breaking through with a five-run sixth inning.
“Our strength is that we’re a team,” Tolland manager Scott Curtis said. “We have 11 guys who know how to play baseball. We have a solid lineup. We don’t have one or two guys who carry us.”
Tolland right fielder Andrew Jaworski threw out a Canton runner at first base, robbing him of a hit. Dan Steiner, Tolland’s catcher, picked a Canton baserunner off first base. Steiner stole two of the four bases swiped by Tolland.
And Tolland pitcher Matt Curtis kept Canton/Granby on their heels for the entire game, allowing just two hits and striking out seven. Curtis did hit three Canton batters in the first two innings but Canton/Granby couldn’t capitalize.
Myers and Jake Nichols were the only Canton players with hits.
But there were still smiles at the end for Canton/Granby.
After beating East Granby in a three-game series to win the District 6 championship and earn a spot in the state tournament, Canton/Granby dropped its first state tournament game to Mansfield, 10-8. A late rally couldn’t erase a slow start.
“I had a heart-to-heart with the players (in that game),” Canton/Granby coach Gary Burke said. “You can quit or you can fight. And they fought hard. I asked them do three things – play hard, play smart and play together. And they did all three. They pushed, they pushed and they pushed.
“They were a great bunch of kids and it was a great ride,” he said.
Canton/Granby got going with a 10-7 win over West Haven with four runs in the fourth inning and three in the fifth to take control. D.J. Clement was 4-for-4 with two singles, a double and a triple. Sam Beadle and Ethan Burke had two hits each.
They followed with a 9-0 shutout win over Haddam-Killingworth with Nicols and Brandon Peters combining to allow just one hit. Ethan Burke was 4-for-4 while Trey VandeBogart was 2-for-2 with two RBI. Nichols and Myers each had doubles. After a line drive, second baseman Cam Neeley threw out a runner from a sitting position while Jack Mansur made a nice over the shoulder catch.
Playing Mansfield for a second time, pitchers Robbie Matson and Myer didn’t allow their opponents to get a jump on them. Canton led 5-0 before Mansfield got on the board and 11-2 after five innings. Myer threw a scoreless first inning while Matson went 5 2/3 innings. At catcher, Beadle threw out three runners who tried to steal a base.
At the plate, Ethan Burke had a two-run single while Nichols and Matson each had three hits including a double. Nick Amrose added a RBI single.
Against Edgewood, Myers was superb on the mound but he got help from his teammates who had eight hits. Nate Olmstead, Jack Mansur and Nichols had two hits each. In the third inning, Nichols reached on an error, stole second base and took third base on a single from Olmstead. Nichols scored on an error on a failed pickoff attempt for a 1-0 lead. Canton made it 2-0 on a RBI single from Mansur that drove in Olmstead.
Canton/Granby hung tough against Tolland. Tolland loaded the bases with two outs in the first inning but Nichols was able to get Tolland’s Jaworski to strike out and end the threat.
Tolland took a 1-0 lead when Cody Ouellette singled, moved to second on a wild pitch and took third on an infield ground ball. Ouellette scored on a sacrifice fly from Sean Kelly that was caught with a diving catch from Clement.
Tolland extended its lead to 2-0 in the fourth on an error, two singles and a two-out fielder’s choice play. They made it 3-0 on a double steal in the fifth inning.
“Canton battled with a depleted pitching staff and I have to give them a lot of credit,” Tolland manager Scott Curtis said. If Canton had won the game, they would have to beat Tolland in a second game to win the double-elimination tournament.
Canton/Granby was made up primarily of Canton players from the three Junior League teams that played this spring. With permission from District 6, players from two Granby teams were added to the squad to form the team.
For the second year in a row, Tolland advances to participate in the Eastern Regional tournament in Freehold, N.J.
Team roster: Jack Mansur, Trey VandeBogart, Mitchell Sorensen, Sam Beadle, Tristian Sorensen, Cam Neeley, Jake Nichols, Will Zawilinski, Pete Myers, Robbie Matson, Nick Amrose, DJ Clement, Nate Olmstead, Brandon Peters, Ethan Burke
Tolland 8, Canton/Granby 0
Tolland (7-0) 001 115 0 – 8-12-1
Canton/Granby (6-3) 000 000 0 – 0-2-2
Matt Curtis and Dan Steiner; Mike Nichols, Nate Olmstead (6), Ethan Burke (7) and Peter Myers; WP: Curtis; LP: Nichols; 2B: Kyle Boutot (T)
Canton/Granby 2, Edgewood-Bristol 0
Edgewood 000 000 0 – 0-0-2
Canton/Granby (6-2) 002 000 x – 2-8-2
Peter Myers and Sam Beadle; Clark, Matthews (2) and Paul; WP: Myers
Recent Connecticut Junior Division baseball state champions
2009: North End-Bridgeport
2006: North End-Bridgeport
2005: West Haven
1999: Ed Walsh-Meriden
1998: Ed Walsh-Meriden