“We are the champions, my friends. And we’ll keep on fighting, ‘til the end.”
Those lyrics, from the rock band Queen’s hit-turned-sports anthem, were very appropriate to the RI East Bay Eagles victory in the championship game of the 11U New England AAU Super championship on Saturday, June 16, at The Eagles’ Nest.
Facing the mercy rule while batting in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Eagles went on a 12-1 run over the next two frames to battle back and defeat the Northeast Gators 21-20.
“It was a baseball game with a football score,” Eagles’ manager Tom Gower said.
The Gators came out swinging in the first, scoring three runs. The Eagles answered loudly in the home half – Kevin Gower singled twice in the inning, Grant McCarty tripled, Kyle Bicho doubled, and Connor Pratt and Scott Dickervitz both singled to give the Eagles a 6-3 lead.
The teams would trade runs in the second. Nico Salvaggio singled and Evan Ramroth entered the game as a courtesy runner. Ramroth stole second, alertly advanced to third on a groundout and scored on a wild pitch.
The game’s defensive highlight came in the inning when Eagles’ second baseman Mason Gomes made one of his trademark sliding stops on a ball ticketed to right and threw out the Gators lead-off hitter at first.
The top of the third was a brutal inning in which the Gators would score eight runs before the Eagles recorded a single out. The inning finally ended when outfielder Jack Skrzypiec, infielder Nico Salvaggio and first baseman Andrew Preuit combined on a double play.
The Eagles went scoreless in their half and trailed 12-7 after 3 innings. The Gators scored three more times in the top of the fourth and the Eagles answered with a pair on hits from Salvaggio and Preuit.
In the fifth, the Gators would add 4 more runs to push their lead to ten, 19-9, and push the Eagles to the brink. The improbable comeback began in earnest for the Eagles in the bottom of the inning.
Salvaggio reached base, stole second and scored on Pratt’s single to center. George Connelly replaced Pratt as a courtesy runner and moved to third on Bicho’s double, then scored on Will Panarello’s single to center. Ramroth, Skrzypiec and Dickervitz capitalized on Gators’ miscues and each ended up scoring themselves, to bring the score to 19-16.
The Eagles surrendered a run to the Gators on a pair of hits in the sixth, and came into their final at-bats with their season and the championship on the line, trailing 20-16.
However, the momentum shift that occurred in the fifth for the Eagles continued. Bicho singled to center, stole second and advanced to third on a groundout. Ramroth walked and stole second. Skrzypiec walked to load the bases. Dickervitz singled to bring home Bicho. McCarty scored Ramroth on a sharp ground ball to second. Salvaggio worked a bases loaded walk to score Skrzypiec.
Pratt stepped to the plate with the bases loaded, two outs and his team trailing by one, worked a dramatic full count, and smashed a double to the right-center gap to bring home two runs and give the Eagles a thrilling walk-off win and the New England championship.
“At our very first indoor practice last December, the players set as their goal to be New England champions again this year,” said Gower. “And through every practice and every game, we always talked how important it was to play for six full innings, to play hard the whole game, and to put the team first. These boys are champions because they never gave up today, they battled and they found a way to come out on top.”