Johnston Little League fell behind in both of the first two innings, but lucky for the Rhode Island state champions, there was plenty more baseball to play.
Johnston didn’t waste it.
Playing Vermont’s Williston Little League, Johnston rallied to take a 6-4 lead in the bottom of the second, and then extended it from there. When it was all said and done, Johnston had survived two bases loaded jams and come away with an 8-6 victory at the 9/10-year-old East Region Invitational.
The win was Johnston’s first of the tournament, as it improved to 1-1 overall. It lost to Massachusetts on Sunday in its first game.
And manger Robert Civetti was happy with the performance up and down the lineup.
“That’s how it’s been the whole time,” Civetti said. “Everyone right through the lineup, whether it’s a bunt, taking a pitch and getting a walk or getting the key hits, everybody helps out.”
Williston dropped to 1-1, as it also has an 8-6 victory over Maine to its name.
Williston looked to be in control when it scored four runs over the first two innings, but it had a hard time coming up with a big hit over the last half of the game.
“The kids pitched pretty well,” Williston manager Paul Angstman said. “We had bases loaded I think three times, but that happens in 9/10 baseball all the time. Strikeouts matter. Good pitchers came in and made good pitches.”
Johnston got a big day at the plate from Andrew Florio, who went 3-for-3, including a long two-run home run to right field in the first inning.
That tied the game at two after Vermont had taken an initial 2-0 lead in the top of the first when Rushford Storm scored on a wild pitch and Baker Angstman had come around on a groundout by Jacob Boliba.
“He hit a beautiful home run,” Civetti said. “He gave us some momentum.”
Johnston starter Andrew Clesas pitched only 1.1 innings because he reached the 50-pitch mark, and he departed with his team down 3-2 after a Williston run came home on an RBI groundout by Aidan Johnson in the second.
Clesas gave way to David Iannuccilli, who allowed an inherited runner to score on a groundout by Ryan DiLorenzo to make it 4-2 before getting out of the jam with no further damage.
In the home half of the second, Johnston went on top.
After the first two men were retired by Williston starter Griffin McDermott, Anthony Scivola and Florio both singled, and Braydon Dolbashian followed that with a long single of his own, scoring both runners to tie the game at four.
“Braydon Dolbashian came here sick today, didn’t want to play and he sucked it up,” Civetti said. “We kept him in there the whole game. I give him a lot of credit.”
The rally didn’t stop there, though, as Clesas singled to put two runners on and Iannuccilli singled as well, plating Johnston’s fifth run. Two batters later, Cal Parrillo walked with the bases loaded to make it a 6-4 game.
“Rhode Island played well,” Paul Angstman said. “They hit the ball really nicely. They hit one of our better pitchers. They scored runs when they really needed to score runs.”
Then Iannuccilli - making his first appearance on the mound for Johnston - went to work. He allowed a run in the third on an RBI single by Benjamin Herskowitz, but Williston left the bases loaded. In the fourth, Iannuccilli retire the side in order before departing with two men on and nobody out in the fifth.
“David Iannucilli, that’s the first game he’s pitched for us,” Civetti said. “We’ve been through and we knew this week was going to be tough. We told all the kids, ‘We might have to throw you an inning, two innings, whatever it is.’ For Dave to come in and throw as well as he did, that was great.”
Dolbashian took over, striking out the first man he saw for the first out in the fifth. After surrendering a bunt single to Ryan Spear to load the bases, Dolbashian struck out back-to-back batters to get out of the inning unscathed.
Johnston padded its lead in the bottom of the fourth, getting an RBI single by Iannuccilli. In the fifth, Florio singled home a run to make 8-5.
Dolbashian began the sixth inning on the mound with the three-run lead, as he tried to finish the deal. But he gave up a double to Johnson and a single to Baker Angstman before walking McDermott to load the bases with nobody out.
After striking out the next men, he hit Ben Mazza-Bergeron with a pitch to bring home Williston’s sixth run.
That brought Cale Layman to the plate, and Dolbashian threw three pitches before reaching the 35-pitch plateau and being pulled for Florio.
And Florio did the job, striking out Layman on a 1-2 fastball before striking out the next batter on three pitches to end the game.
“Andrew kept bothering me all game, ‘Coach can I pitch?’ I said, ‘If I don’t need you, I’m not going to pitch you,’” Civetti said. “As it was, we needed him to close it out and he came in and threw four pitches, four strikes. He wanted to get in there and he did it.”
McDermott ended up going 5.1 innings on the mound for Holliston, as he was removed in the sixth inning after 78 pitches in favor of Spear.
“He battled the whole game,” Paul Angstman said of McDermott. That’s what we get out of him. We get good, consistent long innings, long stretches out of him. He battles every pitch.”
Both teams are still alive in the hunt for a spot in Friday’s New England finals. They will each play their third game of the tournament on Wednesday, with Holliston playing Massachusetts at 5 p.m. and Johnston taking on Maine at 7:30 p.m.
“We can’t wait to play again,” Angstman said. “This is the best. Win, lose, it doesn’t matter. We’re here on what we call house money. We’ll come back and play as hard as we can the next game.”