‘They came to play:’ Middleboro Little League team makes World Series
MIDDLEBORO — Excitement is in the air as Middleboro returns to the Little League World Series for the first time since 1994.
The team sealed its place in the annual Williamsport, Pa. classic, with a 10-1 win over Bangor, Maine, on Aug. 11.
The team of 12-year-olds will represent the New England region as one of 10 American teams in the 20-team tournament. The team will play Nolensville, Tenn., at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 17. The game will take place at Howard J. Lamade Stadium in Williamsport, Pa., and will air on ESPN.
“Middleboro is a baseball town,” said Middleboro Little League President John Cannavo, who has been involved with the organization for nearly 20 years. He says the 25,000-person town’s love for the game makes its teams successful.
Coaches continue coaching after their own kids have outgrown Little League, and the town congregates at games, he said.
Middleboro’s 12-and-under National All-Stars team was organized at the end of the spring regular season.
Coaches of the six “major league” teams, which is the organization’s name for the 12u age group, nominate players from their own team, and they each select a 12-player roster from the nominees. The most-selected players make the team, and then the coaches vote again to fill the rest of the roster.
The first Massachusetts team to qualify for the Little League World Series since 2009 and the seventh ever, Middleboro had to win district and sectional tournaments before moving onto regionals.
The support from spectators, paired with the players’ support for each other, kept the team energized amid the long summer of baseball, Cannavo said.
While the Little League funds travel and lodging for World Series players and coaches, the Middleboro community chipped in to help cover the costs of parents’ trips to Williamsport. The parents and organization expressed appreciation for this support.
On the road to Willamsport, Middleboro displayed its versatility. The team showed its ability to win both pitchers’ duels and slugging contests when it played the best teams from Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont in the regional tournament.
The team won its first regionals game against Concord, N.H., 1-0, thanks to a nine-strikeout performance in 5 ⅓ innings from Jayden Murphy and a two-out save from Gavin Gillpatrick.
They lost the second game of the regional tournament to Bangor, Maine, 10-4. With one win and one loss in regionals, Middleboro again met fellow 1-1 team Concord to play for a spot against 2-0 Bangor in the finals.
Middleboro defeated Concord 11-0. Gillpatrick struck out 10 batters in five innings to go with four hits and four RBI at the plate. Mike Marzelli and Murphy added three and two RBIs in the game, respectively. Jacob Landers and Ayden Morris chipped in with one RBI apiece.
In the rematch against Bangor to determine who would represent New England in the LLWS, every Middleboro player reached base, and the team walked eight times.
Landers led the team with three RBIs from a bases-loaded triple down the right-field line in the top of the third inning. Murphy, Cayden Ellis, and Aaron Davis each added two RBIs. On the mound, Murphy and Landers combined for 14 strikeouts while allowing two hits and four walks. Middleboro won 10-1.
“Mentally, the kids came prepared to play this year,” said assistant coach Jim Trottier. “We stress mental toughness, effort and attitude, good body language. In all of those things, all of these kids have come a really long way.”
The regional tournament victory is this Middleboro team’s first-ever trophy, according to Trottier. He, along with manager Chad Gillpatrick, have coached this team for years. Although they had been runners-up in weekend tournaments, they could never overcome that final hurdle.
“They really came together and started gelling as a really good baseball team,” says Trottier. “We went from not winning any tournaments to being in the ultimate finale of Little League Baseball, the Little League World Series.”
Nemasket Week will be live in Williamsport to cover Middleboro’s journey. Follow along at nemasketweektoday.com.