FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Fairfield American will play Saturday for the New England championship and a berth in the Little League World Series.
The game that got them there was anything but easy. Fairfield won Thursday’s semifinals, 4-3, with an eighth-inning RBI single by Will Lucas scored Henry Presstegaard.
The Americans led 3-0 in the fifth before Vermont answered with three unearned runs to force extra innings. Fairfield had the potential winning run on third in the sixth and seventh before Lucas finally came through.
“I told the guys this is the climb,’’ Fairfield American manager Bill Meury said. “You’re going to play many, many games over the course of your career. Not all of them are going to be easy. You have to grind this thing out.”
Dan Kiernan’s one-out single started the winning rally, and Presstegaard came in to pinch run. Presstegaard took second on a wild pitch, but Matty Clarkin flew out to left. Ryan Meury and Biagio Paoletta walked, setting the stage for Lucas. He drilled the first pitch from Andrew Cunningham just to the left of the shortstop to drive in the winning run.
“It was amazing,’’ Lucas said. “I just wanted to win the game.”
Lucas was 0-for-4 until that point, as Fairfield’s usually potent lineup was held to just six hits.
“He’s been struggling, and he knows that,’’ Bill Meury said. “But at that point you have to forget that you’re 0-for-4. Give him credit. It’s not easy to do that.”
Fairfield seemed to be cruising after scoring one run in each of the first three innings, but Vermont tied it in the fifth with three unearned runs off Ryan Meury and Lucas. Meury, who started, allowed just two hits in 4 1/3 innings. Lucas allowed one unearned run in two innings before Kubel finished up with 1 2/3 impressive innings. He struck out two and did not allow a hit. Kubel also had two RBIs.
Fairfield meets New Hampshire at 6 p.m. Saturday. New Hampshire is the only team that Fairfield did not meet in pool play, where it finished 4-0 and outscored opponents 42-5. Lucas and Kubel will both be available to pitch as the Americans seek their second trip to Williamsport in three years.
“New Hampshire’s a terrific hitting team,’’ Bill Meury said. “We just have to do what we do best.”