‘It was special for everyone:’ Heroes back home after memorable season
MIDDLEBORO — They stepped off the bus and into a heroes’ welcome.
The New England Little League champion Middleboro team returned home Monday evening from the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. As their bus pulled up to Middleboro High School, cheering fans carrying signs and sporting smiles greeted their return with cheers and a few happy tears.
The emotions reflected a journey that took them from their home field in Middleboro to the ultimate destination, a small town in Pennsylvania that draws the best young players from across the country and throughout the world.
“It’s something we’ll never forget,” said manager Chad Gillpatrick as his team prepared to return home. “Out of around 6,500 teams, we made it here. We battled to the very end, until the last pitch. I’m proud of those boys.”
Middleboro’s Little League season ended after winning a district tournament and a regional tournament to earn a Little League Baseball World Series appearance.
The first Middleboro team to qualify for the World Series since 1994 and the first Massachusetts team to represent New England since 2009, the team lost close games to the Southeast region’s Nolensville, Tenn., and the Mid-Atlantic region’s Hollidaysburg, Pa.
Jayden Murphy, Joe Monteforte, and Jacob Landers combined for nine strikeouts in the team’s opening game against Nolensville. The team lost 5-3 in a game interrupted by a two-hour weather delay.
In the first inning, Murphy pitched out of a jam with Nolensville runners on second and third. He led off the Middleboro batting order, and he walked in his first at-bat where he faced a shift that put three infielders to the left of second base. Nolensville did not use the shift again.
The Southeast team scored one run in the second inning and four runs in the third, but, like they did in earlier tournaments this summer, Middleboro players fought back.
“These kids are young, they’re 12, and they’re learning how to compete,” Chad Gillpatrick said. “That was our focus all summer, to be mentally strong from the start to the finish of a game.”
Mike Marzelli singled to drive Luke Bolduc home, and Murphy scored after an error. Bolduc got an RBI of his own as he grounded into a fielder’s choice which allowed Nathan Mello to score.
Middleboro made solid contact late in the game, but the team could not find any holes in the Nolensville defense. The game finished 5-3.
The second game, against Hollidaysburg, Pa., could be called an away game for Middleboro. Over 16,000 fans gathered in the stands and on the hill behind the outfield, mostly to support the Pennsylvania team.
The fans booed Middleboro when the coaches decided to intentionally walk a player who had already hit a home run.
“That’s baseball,” Chad Gillpatrick said, adding that the home run “put a dent’’ in things.
“It’s part of the game. At that point it was a 2-0 count, and we’ve seen that kid and he’s hit a few balls a long way.”
The Middleboro fans held their own. Chants of “Let’s go ‘Boro” rang out on multiple occasions, and plenty of fans brought signs. The fans even had a few personalized cheers, including “LUUUUUKE” for Luke Bolduc.
Ayden Morris hit an RBI double to drive Marzelli home, and Gavin Gillpatrick allowed only one hit through his first three innings pitched. The team defense also showed improvement from its first game, including when Marzelli backtracked to catch a pop-up that flew over his head, and avoided oncoming right fielder Reece Trottier.
The coaches platooned the outfield, swapping in Monteforte, Shawn Miller, and Aaron Davis for Cayden Ellis, Mello, and Trottier, and the defense stayed strong as Miller caught a fly ball on the first play the second outfield saw.
The game stayed 1-0 until Hollidaysburg’s four-run fourth inning. But Middleboro players, as they did all summer, rallied. The team answered with two runs in the top of the fifth: Murphy drove Landers home, and Marzelli drove Murphy home to make it a 4-3 game.
Hollidaysburg scored three more runs in the bottom of the fifth, extending the lead to 7-3. With two outs in the last half-inning, Murphy singled to drive Mello and Bolduc home, but it wasn’t quite enough as a ground ball to the pitcher ended the game at 7-5.
The season may be over, but the memories of a special season will never fade.
“We have a great group of kids and they all have great families,” Chad Gillpatrick said. “I’ve been lucky enough to coach this team, and we’re going to have memories to last a lifetime. It was special for everybody, and the whole team contributed.”