The Cal Ripken U12 New England Regional Tournament kicked off Friday, July 20, at Glander Field, in Newtown. The Newtown Thunder, three-time Connecticut State champions, played host for the top eight teams in New England, competing for the right to go to the World Series in Baltimore in August.
Friday afternoon, July 20, opened with a skills competition among the 100 ball payers. Threatening weather forced a move to the Newtown Youth Academy, where the Thunder rekindled friendly rivalries, as six out of the eight teams in this year’s tournament also competed in last year’s Regional Tournament.
Seeding for the start of the 2012 Regionals pitted Thunder against their biggest rival, Exeter, N.H., in the first round of the double elimination event, played Saturday, July 21. Last year, Exeter knocked off Newtown twice from the loser’s winner’s bracket to take the New England crown. The Thunder was ready for game one. Thunder pitcher Jason Hebner set the tone for the game as he struck out the leadoff batter for the first out. Will Huegi’s throw from center field to nail the lone base runner at the plate sparked the Thunder bats to come alive. Hebner took complete control of the game from the mound the rest of the way. Meanwhile Newtown’s bats caught fire in the second inning producing five runs. The inning was capped off by a homerun blast from Dylan Champagne. Hebner completed the game with an 8-0 shutout. Exeter coaches congratulated Hebner, as they said that this was the first time in their four years that Exeter was shut out. Final score, Newtown 8, Exeter 0.
Game two was played Sunday, July 22, where Newtown Thunder continued to show off their offensive firepower against Sutton, Mass. Thunder put up ten runs in the first inning. Ryan Kost belted a two-run shot and Lucas O’Brien hit a grand slam in his second at bat of the inning. Kost got the win and ten different players for Newtown scored at least a run, for a final score of Newtown 21, Sutton 1.
A two-year rivalry with New Canaan began again, Tuesday, July 24. Over the two years, six games between Newtown and New Canaan have ended with a one-run decision. This game would be no different.
Thunder’s Jason Hebner took the mound again. The score went back and forth, with Newtown up 10 to 6, going into the fifth inning. Adam Bergeron brought home four of those runs, with two clutch hits producing two RBIs on each one. Hebner helped his own cause as he powered a two-run homer over the right field fence. Ben Harrison ripped a double to left, scoring two more.
The Newtown crowd was quieted as New Canaan’s Dillon Abate hit a grand slam in the top of the fifth inning to tie the game. New Canaan pushed one more across to take the lead just before the umpires called the game for darkness.
The winner’s bracket third game was continued Wednesday. Down by one run and with six outs to go, the top of Newtown’s order went quietly in the bottom of the fifth. In the bottom of the sixth, Newtown pushed across the tying run without a hit. Ben Dieckman walked, and was balked to second. Pinch runner Robert Lombardo moved to third on a wild pitch and scored with two outs, as the New Canaan catcher attempted to pick him off and threw the ball into left field.
Dieckman relieved Hebner in the seventh inning and shut the big New Canaan bats down. He gave up one hit and struck out three. In the eighth, Harrison singled, and Bergeron then moved the runner over to second. Thunder’s Connor Barrett stepped to the plate and delivered the walk off to right center to send Newtown to the championship game. Final score, Newtown 12, New Canaan 11.
In the first Championship Game, played Thursday, July 26, the Thunder was sitting in the catbird seat, or so they thought. The slugfest began right away as the score after one inning was 4 to 3, New Canaan. With consecutive hits by Kost O’Brien and Jason Hebner, Newtown had a 7-5 lead in the fourth. New Canaan tied it up in the fifth. The score remained tied after six and another epic Newtown/New Canaan game was under way. Adam Bergeron came on to pitch in the eighth. A ground ball error gave New Canaan a one-run lead. Although there were many scoring opportunities for both teams, the score remained tied going into the 11th inning. Then New Canaan’s Justin Stemmeran singled in Robbie Jones to take the lead. Newtown threatened in the bottom, but the New Canaan centerfielder made a leaping catch, which helped preserve the four-hour win for New Canaan, winning 9 to 8.
Championship game two found Newtown facing New Canaan again, in a game forced by Thursday’s extra innings to Friday, and then pushed by Cal Ripken commissioner to Saturday, July 28, due to weather conditions. With the game before only the first loss for Newtown in the tournament, New Canaan needed to knock them off to take the title.
Jason Hebner was given the ball. The typical battle began with New Canaan loading the bases with one out in the first. Matt Evans then ripped a line drive headed for the right field line, only to have Ben Dieckman snag it and step on first for an inning-ending double play. Newtown scored two in the first on a two-run blast to right center off the bat of Lucas O’Brien. O’Brien knocked in two more, Hebner delivered an RBI single, and the Thunder were up 5-0. New Canaan’s Matt Burger delivered a grand slam, which knotted the score at 5.
With Newtown up to bat, Dieckman singled to left, Grossano delivered a hit to left, Barrett walked, and Kost singled up the middle. O’Brien delivered a hit and his fifth RBI of the game. Hebner singled right behind, and Harrison delivered a double. When the dust settled it was Newtown Thunder 13, New Canaan 5.
The New Canaan coach, Chas Abate brought his ace pitcher Robbie Jones to the mound. Grossano drove a key line drive single to left field. Barrett then delivered a shot of his own and put the winning run on first base. Kost knocked in Grossano on an infield single. Hebner came to the plate. Before his double to left would stop rolling, the Thunder team was on the field tackling Hebner as Barrett and Kost crossed the plate. Mercy rules put Newtown on the way to the World Series, with a four-inning final score of 15 to 5.
The Cal Ripken World Series takes place August 10 to 19, in the Ripken Academy complex, in Aberdeen, Md. For the second time in three years, Newtown coaches Chris O’Brien and Kevin Barrett, and manager Tom Harrison will lead the team to Aberdeen, where they will have the opportunity to play baseball with ten of the best US teams and six International teams. Each team represents the winner of their respective regional tournaments. Newtown Thunder’s first scheduled game is Saturday, August 11, at 5 pm. According to a press release received by The Newtown Bee, the International Championship, US Championship, and World Championship games for the 2012 tournament will be broadcast live, August 18 and 19, on CBS Sports Network and CBSSports.com. Additionally, all tournament games will air on Internet radio station SFMsports.net and simulcast through Live web cameras via WatchMeSports.com. More details can be found at http://worldseries.ripkenbaseball.com.
A fundraiser to assist in the World Series travel costs for the 12-year-old 2012 Regional Champions Newtown Thunder, is scheduled for Tuesday, August 7, from 5 to 9 pm, at My Place Restaurant, 8 Queen Street, Newtown. Mention Newtown Thunder World Series when ordering, and a portion of each purchase, dine-in or take-out, will go to the team.