4-foot-11 third baseman lights the fuse for NJ

Jackson, New Jersey, manager Rob Grano hoped looking backward could keep his Mid-Atlantic champions moving forward Saturday afternoon.

His weapon of choice was third baseman Ryan Kinsman. A year ago, Kinsman provided the 11-year-old state champions a big lift, batting lead-off. Kinsman recently had cooled off and did not start when New Jersey played its first Little League World Series game Thursday.

But when New Jersey needed him most, Kinsman delivered Saturday. Grano moved Kinsman back to the lead-off position and Kinsman responded by going 2 for 2 with two doubles, a walk, three RBIs and two runs as New Jersey defeated Grosse Pointe, Michigan, 15-5 in four innings and kept its Series championship hopes alive.

“I keep talking about how I have 13 kids and we decided to shake things up a little bit,” Grano said. “I always say, Ryan has never met a fastball he didn’t like. I said, ‘if you can get a fastball, barrel them up and hit some shots,’ and he did. He played unbelievable.”

New Jersey shortstop Chris Cartnick might have been the game’s headliner, going 3 for 3 with two home runs in one inning and six RBIs. But Kinsman helped set the tone. The 4-foot-11 third baseman lit the fuse and his teammates soon erupted as they avoided elimination and advanced to play again today.

Fairfield, Connecticut snapped New Jersey’s 21-game winning streak when it won the Series opener, 7-6, on Thursday. Kinsman wasted no time showing his teammates that they could turn the page, working a full count to open the game before slamming a double off the center-field wall.

“Ryan coming off the bench did amazing today,” Cartnick said.

“I used to not really start as much (in past games) I had a bunch of strikeouts and wasn’t really feeling it,” Kinsman said. “I started off with a double and it really boosted my confidence hitting a double. It felt good.”

Kinsman and New Jersey kept feeling good the next inning. Kinsman drew a walk and was one of five straight players to reach base as the Mid-Atlantic champions turned a two-run deficit into a 4-2 lead.

The team’s smallest player continued coming up big in his final at-bat. Kinsman cleared the bases this time, slamming a three-run double that put New Jersey up 12-5. Kinsman’s big hit was part of a nine-run rally as New Jersey broke open the game and advanced to Monday’s next round.

Just in time, New Jersey’s spark was back.

“That (first-inning) double he had tonight kind of jump-started us a little bit and reminded me of what he did in the state championship last year,” Grano said. “In these tense spots he gets a lot of big hits. He’s a very good baseball player. It’s just that extra spark we need sometimes.”