No off days for Coventry kids

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Players from Coventry, Rhode Island talk to Australia’s Zach Smith during the Little League World Series’ team picnic at Pennsylvania College of Technology on Wednesday. For the New England regional champions, they don’t take any days off from baseball and it’s part of why they’re at the World Series.

Coventry, Rhode Island manager Lou Simon has given his players off-days this summer.

They just never take them.

Following a state championship win last month, Simon gave his team the following day off. The coaches stayed off the practice fields the next day, but the players did not. A team mother asked league president Donovan Frenze if the players could use the fields and he granted permission. He then traveled there and watched as players threw batting practice to each other, fielded grounders and shagged flyballs.

If one moment best shows why Coventry is playing at the Little League World Series for the first time, that might be it.

“They just never stop working. That’s been their motto,” Frenze said. “When they break things down between innings or before and after games they always yell, ‘hard work.'”

Coventry just does not say those words. It lives them.

Five of these players were part of a Pop Warner football team that played for a national championship last December. But they and all their teammates still found time to hone their baseball skills throughout the offseason. They had a dream and if it would not come to fruition it would not be from a lack of work.

“All these kids have worked for the last 3-4 months and really since the end of last season,” Coventry manager Lou Simon said. “We are a strong team with all 13 kids contributing. Everyone always does their part. They count on each other and we preach that all 13 have to do their job when their time is up and they have all done that all summer.”

The core of this team has been together the last few years and achieved big things, reaching the 10-year old state final and winning last year’s 11-year old state championship. That planted a seed that made the Series dream seem more attainable. Still, though, Coventry had to battle through a rugged Rhode Island field that included four different Series qualifiers, including district rival Warwick North, since 2001.

Coventry handled the challenge in impressive fashion, going undefeated through states and beating Cranston Western and Lincoln teams at states that have combined for four Series appearances since 1996. It was just the second 12U state championship in program history and Coventry entered the New England Regional having outscored its opponents, 74-5.

“I’ve known most of these kids since they came into the league. I watched them grow up and to go as far as they have, it’s amazing,” former Coventry Little League president Steve Desjarlais said. “They played as 10-year olds with my son when he was 12 and you could see the talent. You could see something special brewing then. They had that special chemistry.”

Regionals started much like districts and states did. Coventry routed defending New England champion Fairfield, Connecticut and Vermont, 10-0 both times with Tommy Turner throwing a 4-inning perfect game against Fairfield. Pittsfield, Massachusetts, however, brought what had been looking like an unstoppable train to a screeching halt. Massachusetts thumped Coventry, 10-1, sending it into the loser’s bracket.

A day later, Goffstown, New Hampshire took a five-run lead into the sixth inning. Coventry had been outscored 15-1 the previous two days and was three outs from elimination. The situation appeared darker than storm clouds. Then Turner led off the sixth inning with a single, Jake Mather followed with a single and Logan Lama hit a 2-run triple. Suddenly, Coventry had life, although it still trailed 5-3 with two outs.

Dylan Mourao hit a 2-out RBI single and made it, 5-4. He injured his ankle rounding first base but stayed in the game. Two batters later, he symbolized Coventry’s spirit, season and team, scoring the winning run when Turner hit a 2-out, walk-off single as Coventry won, 6-5. What seemed like an impossible situation turned into a season-changing win and two days later, Coventry made history when it exacted revenge against Massachusetts, winning a 3-2 thriller.

“We talk to the boys and coaches and talk about Little League being more than just baseball and about building character that will impact all areas of your life,” Simon said. “Nothing is going to come easy. You have to pick yourselves up after a bad at-bat and battle through. We said we’ve scored six runs before and there’s no reason we can’t do it again. To see them dig down and battle and show their heart was really great to see.”

“I was a huge Red Sox fan growing up and I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop, but after 2004 when they won the World Series after the Patriots had beaten the Rams in the 2001 Super Bowl, all the sudden there was that winning attitude that anything was possible so I still had that inkling of hope,” Desjarlais said. “They still have to get one more out, I kept thinking. As long as there still is that one out to make there is a chance and they pulled it out. It was amazing to watch. I’ve seen them do it before, too, and it was a special feeling.”

Coventry is generating great feelings throughout the entire New England region these days. Players, coaches, board members and volunteers have been flooded with well-wishes. Restaurants with televisions are filled with cheering fans and watch parties are being held throughout the region.

A team that never has taken a day off is being backed by fans who will not supporting them either.

“I’ve been thinking about all the hard work behind the scenes that goes into putting this season season together and it’s all gravy right now,” Frenze said. “They’ve given us back something and, win or lose, it has been a great ride. All I can hope for them is that they’re soaking it up and have a terrific experience. Everyone is galvanized and pulling for the boys.”