Goffstown - 30 July 2016: The first time Goffstown, the youngest team in the Jimmy Fund All-Star tournament (8 of 11 kids are 8 years-old or younger), faced the 1st place Nashua team (only 3 of 13 kids are 8 years-old or younger) the contest wasn’t even close, or competitive. Showing off their experience, size and strength, Nashua easily handled Goffstown in their opening match 13-3. Expectations for this game were that the same type of mismatch would occur the second time around, and Nashua would win going away. But when the game started, it was clear somebody forgot to tell the Goffstown team about those expectations.
Harrison Neff, Goffstown starting pitcher, must have had his Wheaties for breakfast, because he came out of the dugout throwing lasers, striking out 5 batters the first time through Nashua’s mighty batting order, while also taking a flip from Catcher Max Bridgeman and tagging a runner out at home.
Goffstown’s offense picked up where they left off the game before, swinging at everything and producing hit after hit. If it weren’t for a brilliant play from the Nashua pitcher in the second inning, Goffstown would be leading. As it was, Nashua clung to a narrow 1-0 lead after two.
Nashua tried to pull away with 5 runs in the 3rd inning, but Goffstown came storming back with 3 runs in their half of the 3rd, and 5 more runs in their half of the 4th inning. Goffstown batters were so aggressive they left the base-loaded in every inning except the 1st and 5th.
Owen Sereno on the pitchers mound
Max Bridgeman again went 3 for 3 at the plate, banging out a single and 2 doubles. Even more impressive, was that each of his hits came with two strikes on him. (Max went 9 for 11 in his last four games – WOW!). Harrison Neff added two more singles, Zachary Godette added a single, Adrie Reeves had her fourth hit in as many games. And Connor Bernard added two hits: a single and a double. Griffin Wilkinson and Owen Sereno each walked, and Stevie Dambosie, Aidan Izzett, Levi Locke and Brady Godette each reached base via Hit By a Pitch, as Nashua pitchers were rattled early by Goffstown bats.
Connor Bernard, who made his pitching debut two nights earlier when the game was already decided, was called in once again, but this time with the game on the line. He was awesome. In two innings of work, he walked only two batters. Nearly every pitch was a strike. Nashua batters strung together 3 consecutive hits and a few runs in the 4th, but then Goffstown’s defense rose to the challenge, making several put-outs behind their newest pitcher and sending the game to the final inning in what was shaping up to potentially be the biggest upset in tournament play this season.
Mighty Nashua. 1st place Nashua. Bigger, better, stronger Nashua had been pushed to the brink by a bunch of upstart youngsters in maroon playing their best game (and last game) of the season. It was going down to the wire. No one expected this. In their last at-bats, Nashua still needed 1 run to win. Goffstown just needed to hang on.
Connor walked out to the mound in the 6th inning and final inning and the first pitch he threw was what else, a strike. The Nashua batter popped it up to Goffstown’s 1st baseman, Harrison Neff. One out! You could feel the buzz. But then the Goffstown coach was walking to the mound. It couldn’t be. After throwing a magnificent game, the coach was taking Connor out of the game with only two more outs to go. Why? Connor had reached his mandatory pitch-count (a Little League rule established to protect and preserve the arms of young hurlers).
Never Fear. In came Owen Sereno. It’s ironic that Goffstown’s youngest player, Owen (only 7 years old) went to the hill to face the oldest team in the tournament. It summed up the season: Youth versus Experience. And like a microcosm of the entire game, Owen gave Nashua all they could handle. Throwing two strikes right out of the gate, Owen had his best stuff working and the crowd was on their feet. On Owen’s third pitch (another strike) the batter reached out to protect the plate and slapped a weak single into left field just between Goffstown’s shortstop and 3rd baseman. It didn’t seem to bother Owen, striking out the next batter on 5 pitches. Two Outs. But while Owen battled the batter, the runner had stole 2nd base and 3rd base. Nashua’s winning run stood only 60 feet away with 1 more out to go. Owen continued to deliver, and the count went to 2 balls and 2 strikes. Only one more strike would do it. But on the next pitch, the ball got by Max Bridgeman, playing catcher. The runner from 3rd made a mad dash home knowing that with the way Owen was pitching, if they wanted to score, it was now or never. Max quickly found the ball and ran for the tag. Max was there. The runner was there. The two players fell into each other and on top of each other in baseball’s version of the Milton Bradley classic Twister. Dirt flew up and everyone waited. The play was too close to gauge from the dugout. What was the call? As the dust began to settle, the umpire shot his arms out wide. “Safe!”
Nashua jumped in the air and celebrated. Goffstown walked slowly to the dugout. Those first five minutes after that call was hard on Goffstown… until they slowly started to realize what they had just done. Nashua had pummeled nearly every team they had played, including Goffstown themselves two weeks earlier. But not this time. Not this game. Not this team. Goffstown had gotten better and better as the season went on, and as the season ended they were playing their best baseball and everyone knew it. They had shown it. They had just proved it. And when you go out knowing you gave your all and did your best, it’s a pretty amazing feeling (and something to be mighty proud of) as you hang up your cleats and head to the off-season.
About: Jimmy Fund Little League co-presented by Extra Innings and Franklin Sports provides more than 5,000 little league baseball and softball players throughout New England the chance to continue playing after their regular season ends by fundraising and participating in local tournaments.
Off the field, these players take to their communities to raise vital funds for the Jimmy Fund, while learning the importance of philanthropy and volunteerism, and that they, too, can make a difference in the fight against cancer.
Help strike out cancer by participating or supporting Jimmy Fund Little League.
Since 1987, the hard work and winning spirit of the coaches, parents and, most importantly, the players, have raised more than $4.5 million for the Jimmy Fund.