West Raleigh, N.C. used strong pitching and enough hitting Saturday evening to get past New Milford, Conn., 7-3, in the United States championship game of the Cal Ripken Major/70 World Series played at Cal Sr.'s Yard.
"It's unbelievable," West Raleigh manager Tyler Highfill said. "These guys start out the season and this is where they wanted to be. We just kind of took it one step at a time along the way and it's a long shot to get here and an even longer shot when we get here to win it."
West Raleigh will play Japan, winner of the international title, for the world championship on Sunday at Cal Sr.'s Yard with the first pitch slated for 2 p.m.
In the U.S. showdown, West Raleigh pitchers limited New Milford hitters to just three hits, while the North Carolina hitters were banging out nine hits and taking advantage of a few New Milford miscues.
"No disappointment," New Milford manager Paul Gesualdi said after the game. "We got beat by a better baseball team today, that's what it came down to. Their pitching was better than our hitting and when you hold our team to three hits, you've accomplished something, because these kids can hit the snot out of the ball."
The first error led to West Raleigh's first two runs in the bottom of the second. Victor Vargas hit a dribbler off the end of the bat toward first baseman Nick Dicandido. The ball had a funny spin and Dicandido had trouble picking it up.
Sam Highfill then walked and Adam Stuart, in the game as the extra hitter, singled to score Vargas. Stuart scored the second run minutes later on Jeff Griffin's sacrifice fly to left field.
New Milford wasted no time getting even, scoring twice in the top of the third.
Tim Cianciolo led off with a single, but was forced out by Kendall Greene's grounder to short. Austin Swanson then reached on a catcher's interference call and Max Cotier followed with a two-run double that nearly left the yard for a three-run home run.
Cotier was balked to third when starting West Raleigh pitcher Kyle Mott dropped the ball while on the rubber.
Kurtis Krizan then hit a ground ball down the third baseline that went over the bag and inside the line beyond it, but umpire Dave Masser called the ball foul. Cotier would have scored easily and Krizan likely would have had a double.
"It wasn't foul, you can put it in quotes, because it wasn't foul," manager Gesualdi said. "Kind of hard for a foul ball to land fair and be foul. It could have been a game changer, but we'll never know,"
Instead, Krizan struck out and Chris Gesualdi popped out to shortstop to end the inning.
New Milford pitcher Tyler Bowe pitched around another error in the third, but ran into trouble in the fourth.
West Raleigh clean-up hitter Tucker Jackson led off the inning with a single. Jackson stole second and scored on a Vargas double. That drove Bowe from the mound for Gesualdi, who got a groundout for the first out, but Stuart added his second RBI single of the contest to put his team ahead, 4-2.
After the game, Stuart said, "It feels great because it means that we're number one in the USA and it means a lot and it shows that we know how to play baseball."
Gesualdi got out of the inning with two fly ball outs, but he too found trouble the next inning.
Before that though, Swanson made good in his final series at bat. Swanson caught up with a fastball from reliever Ryan Sholar and lifted a high, long, two-out home run to center field. Swanson's drive pulled his club to within a run, 4-3. "I don't think any New England team has gone this far, so, glad we came this far," Swanson said. As for the home run, Swanson said, "It felt good."
Cotier then hit a drive to left field that was fading toward the line, but West Raleigh's Dominick D'Ercole made a lunging catch to take away the extra-base hit.
Any hopes New Milford had of a last inning rally of a run or two, quickly disappeared in the bottom of the fifth.
A leadoff walk to D'Ercole led to a nine-batter half inning that produced four hits and most importantly three runs.
Kohl Abrams followed with a bunt, fielded by Gesualdi, but no one was covering first. Sholar then singled to load the bases and Kyle Mott also singled to plate D'Ercole.
Cotier relieved Gesualdi and got Jackson to ground into a fielder's choice, shortstop Gesualdi to catcher Cianciolo.
Vargas worked Cotier for a run-scoring walk and Highfill added a RBI single, before Cotier was able to get out of the inning with his only strikeout and a fly ball to center.
The New Milford lineup went quietly and in order in the sixth to bring a close to the game.
Mott pitched four innings to collect the win, striking out six. He walked two and allowed two hits.
Bowe took the loss, working three innings plus. He gave up four runs (two earned) on four hits. He also walked one and struck out one.
"Did I think we'd be playing for a national title?, I'll be honest, no," manager Gesualdi said. "It's hard for me to walk away disappointed today. The kids are disappointed; fans are disappointed, but we came out here and did our thing. We gave it everything we had, we just lost to a better team."