Grand slam lifts Connecticut

New Jersey’s Charlie Meglio beats the attempted tag by Connecticut catcher Aidan Rivera to score on a single by Dean Daddio in the second inning of an elimination game in South Williamsport on Wednesday. (AP)

A closer look at the Fairfield, Connecticut , 12-2, five-inning win over Jackson, New Jersey, Wednesday at Lamade Stadium.

PLAY OF THE GAME: Troy Ashkinos’s grand slam. New Jersey was still hanging around, trailing by three, but Ashkinos changed everything with one big fourth-inning swing. Ashkinos delivered the hit of his life, slamming a grand slam over the center-field fence and giving Connecticut a 9-2 lead. It was a dagger in New Jersey’s collective heart and helped Connecticut become just the third New England team to reach the U.S. Final 3 in the last 14 years.

CONNECTICUT PLAYER OF THE GAME: On a team with 14 outstanding players who have made stellar contributions all summer, it was Troy Ashkinos who especially stood out offensively Wednesday. The right fielder went 2 for 2 with his grand slam, a walk-off single, five RBIs and a walk. Ashkinos reached base every time he batted and was invovled in all three rallies Connecticut produced.

NEW JERSEY PLAYER OF THE GAME: One of the best five-tool players at this year’s Series, Chris Cartnick played one last excellent game on the world’s biggest Little League stage. The slick-fielding shortstop went 2 for 3 with a double and a run scored. He finished the Series with three home runs and eight RBIs.

BIG INNING: Connecticut’s first. While New Jersey fought back and eventually made it a three-run game, Connecticut scoring five runs in the first inning set the tone and helped pave the way into the U.S. Final Three. Giving ace Ethan Righter a 5-0 lead provided an immense boost and immediately put the pressure on New Jersey. The first five batters reached base and Matthew Vivona’s 2-run double three batters into the game gave the New England champions a 2-0 lead they never relinquished.

BEST EFFORT: Connecticut ace Ethan Righter has been sensational all summer and has elevated his performance on the biggest stage. Righter stymied New Jersey for a second time at the Series and is the only pitcher who has done that this summer. Righter threw 4 2/3 strong innings of 3-hit baseball and struck out seven. Righter went 2-0 against New Jersey at the Series, striking out 14 in 8 1/3 innings.

HOME RUNS: Troy Ashkinos likely had the entire New England region standing and applauding after hitting his game-breaking grand slam. Ashkinos took a strike before driving the next pitch toward the bushes beyond the center-field fence.

FLASHING LEATHER: Connecticut pitcher Ethan Righter helped his own cause in the third inning. Righter field a hard-hit J.R. Osmond grounder up the middle which saved a single and prevented Chris Cartnick from scoring. Speaking of Cartnick, the talented shortstop robbed Christian Dodder of a two-out single in the bottom of the third. Cartnick dove to his left, stopped a grounder behind the second-base bag, jumped up and raced to make the forceout. Moments after moving from pitcher to second base, Righter made an excellent diving stop and flipped to second for a fifth-inning ending fielder’s choice.

WHAT THE ADULTS SAY: “For New England to be in the Final 3 for the U.S is unbelievable,” Connecticut manager Mike Randazzo said. “It’s amazing, it’s whatever adjective you can use.”

“I told my son after the game we’re coming back,” New Jersey manager Rob Grano said. “This is something you put on your bucket list. It’s just something that is wonderful to experience.”

WHAT THE KIDS SAY: “Off the bat I thought it was just a pop-up which was good because I thought we would score a run,” Matthew Vivona said of Ashkinos’s grand slam. “Then I saw the left fielder not move an inch and I saw it went out and then I just went crazy.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Connecticut is guaranteed a top three finish in the country and will play again Thursday night against the North Carolina-Texas winner. A win there would send Connecticut to Saturday’s national championship. The Holbrook Little Leaguers from New Jersey became the first team from their league to ever play at the Series and finished fourth in the country. New Jersey closed out its memorable season with 23 wins, winning 21 straight at one point.