NEWTOWN -- It may not be at Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park, but the Newtown 12 year olds are going to the World Series. The 2012 12-70 Cal Ripken World Series, that is.
"We went two years ago when the kids were 10 years old, and we went 0-4," Newtown coach Tom Harrison said. "It's been our goal for two years to get back here, and we feel very good about this year. You can see by their celebration."
The roller coaster of emotions that was the first two and a half innings of Saturday's New England regional tournament final broke Newtown's way in the fourth frame. An eight-run, two-out rally all but cashed the Thunder's ticket to Aberdeen, Md., and Newtown defeated New Canaan 16-5 in four innings via the mercy rule at Glander Field. The stoic yet smiling Harrison, soaked from his post-game Gatorade bath courtesy of his players, spoke the highest of his player's tenacity.
"When you get momentum, you can't let up," he said. "When the kids see the kid in front of them get a hit, they want to get a hit, too. They feed off each other."
Early on in the game, it appeared to be a foregone conclusion that Newtown would be boarding a bus down to Aberdeen on Aug. 10. Shortstop Lucas O'Brien clobbered a two-run home run off of New Canaan starting pitcher Dillon Abate in the second inning and drove in two more runs with a single in the third inning, good for four of his five total RBIs on the day.
Starting pitcher Jason Hebner, who struck out four, drove a run-scoring single off the wall to give Newtown a five-run lead after three innings, but New Canaan clawed its way back in the top of the fourth. Hebner allowed a bunt single and then walked the next two hitters, bringing up heavy-hitting New Canaan catcher Rob Jones. Oddly, he was intentionally walked, allowing a run to score. Third baseman Matt Burger made Newtown pay for the managerial decision by crushing a mammoth opposite-field grand slam, tying the game at 5. But as quickly as Newtown's mood changed from celebration to shock, the Thunder countered New Canaan with their own big inning.
After Burger came on in relief of Abate, he quickly retired the first two hitters before nine straight Newtown batters reached base, including six straight run-scoring hits by O'Brien, Hebner, Ryan Kost, Ben Harrison, Adam Bergeron, Ben Dieckman and Dylan Champagne. By the end of the onslaught, it was 13-5, and a fourth-inning single from Hebner brought home the mercy rule and championship-sealing runs, sending the Newtown players storming out of the dugout to mob him.
"It was an incredible fourth inning, for sure," coach Harrison said. "O'Brien was on fire and Hebner was terrific on the mound. He couldn't even sleep last night, he was so excited."
For the second time in three years, Newtown has advanced to the Cal Ripken World Series. This time, they have a chance to make some noise on a national level.
"We made it, the pressure is off now," Harrison said. "Anything that happens down there is gravy."
NEW CANAAN 000 50 -- 5 4 2
NEWTOWN 023 83 -- 16 17 1
Batteries: NC -- Abate (L), Burger (3), Jones (4), and Jones and Matt Evans (4); N -- Hebner (W) and Harrison.
Home Runs: NC -- Burger; N -- O'Brien