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After meeting at regionals, New Jersey, Rhode Island game was meant to be

Elizabeth, New Jersey, and Barrington, Rhode Island, players bunked together at their respective Regional Tournaments. They bussed together to the Little League World Series.

It seemed fitting, then, last Tuesday, they joined together one last time. This time both teams shared the field at Lamade Stadium and produced a spectacular game. The players and coaches also displayed super sportsmanship and that is what made this game so much fun.

New Jersey won this elimination game, 2-0, scoring two sixth-inning runs via some timely hitting and smart baserunning. Sal Garcia, Derek Escobar, J.R. Rosado and Jayden Capindica combined on a one-hit shutout for New Jersey, and Miles Fontaine delivered an awesome pitching performance for Rhode Island, throwing 5 2/3 innings of five-hit baseball, striking out six and allowing just one earned run.

The game featured enough super defensive plays to fill a book and both teams offered performances that symbolized everything they represented.

That continued after the game as well with New Jersey manager Jairo Labrador and Rhode Island manager Chris Promades showered praise upon the opponent, their players and their communities. It was everything Little League Baseball is supposed to be about and it was a lot of fun watching the game and the aftermath unfold.

“I just want to say what a great performance by Rhode Island and the kids and the coaches over there. It’s a shame somebody had to lose a game like that tonight. That’s a great group of boys,” Labrador said, “It was such a tough game. Their pitcher, their coaching staff … class acts.”

“That team we just played is a phenomenal group of baseball players. They’re really well-coached,” Promades said. “We befriended those guys in Bristol (Connecticut) at the regional tournament. We know them really well. They are a great group of kids and that’s a heck of a baseball team.”

So is Rhode Island. Less than 15 hours after beating Rhode Island, New Jersey watched its memorable season end when it lost to Louisiana, 4-1. Still, during that day-night span both Rhode Island and New Jersey offered final reminders about what made their teams and their summer-long runs so enjoyable.

This was the first Barrington team to play at the Little League World Series and the league’s first to win a state championship since 1975. It lost its first district tournament game, but won seven straight games to capture that title and just kept winning from there.

Nothing ever came easy and Rhode Island also lost a game at regionals before reeling off consecutive victories and winning that championship. Time after time, though, this determined team picked itself off the ground, dusted itself off and conquered the next challenge.

Rhode Island did so again at the Series, being no-hit in its opener against Virginia, 3-0. A day later, the New England champions again came storming back and defeated Kentucky, 6-1, in an elimination game. It then did everything possible to win against New Jersey, mounting a two-out, sixth-inning rally.

Ultimately, it took a sensational play by New Jersey third baseman Derek Escobar to rob Alex Anderson of a hit which would have put the tying runs on base to finally knock out Rhode Island. The way Rhode Island went down fighting perfectly encapsulated who it is.

“That’s all we ask of our guys. We’ve never preached to the kids about winning or losing. We talk about going out and giving 100 percent, leaving it all on the field, having no regrets. It’s attitude and effort,” Promades said. “We talk about playing for the name on the front of the jersey, not on the back. All those things we just don’t say it, we truly mean it. Our kids have shown not only here, but all around the world what we’re all about. We’re a bunch of scrappers and grinders and fighters.”

Combine that with what this team has done historically and baseball might never be the same in Barrington. Promades said he already has heard reports about players competing on the Little League field in bunches back home, playing catch and trying to emulate their 11- and 12-year-old heroes.

This is a team that captivated not just its town, but its entire region. The Boston Red Sox were providing scoring updates throughout their Major League games and members of the world champion New England Patriots called and offered the team well-wishes, too.

Barrington did not have much baseball history before 2019. It sure has some now.

“They just love the game. We love being out there with them. The games are great, but the practices are even better sometimes. Preparing these guys and the love of the game is what we’ve developed,” Promades said. “The whole idea going forward was to develop their baseball minds and abilities and create those friendships. It’s something I’ll never forget. I’m just proud to be a part of it. It’s the best summer of my whole life. I feel like a little kid all over again. These kids are just awesome. We had the fans jumping back home.”

So did New Jersey.

The Elmora Youth Little Leaguers did the same for Elizabeth, New Jersey, and the Mid-Atlantic region. Like Barrington, Elizabeth and the Elmora Youth Little League did not have tremendous history but sure made a lot this summer.

A group of players who took the Mid-Atlantic championship as 10-year-olds, New Jersey kept growing stronger and better each season since. It did not suffer its first loss until regionals when Washington D.C hit a three-run walk-off home run and handed New Jersey a gut-wrenching 8-7 loss.

Instead of crumbling, New Jersey won four straight elimination games, outscoring those teams 42-9. It then won twice at the Series, rallying from a one-run, fifth-inning deficit against Oregon, and shining in the sixth against Rhode Island.

Look at all the games this team played along the way and one will find different players delivering game-winning or game-changing hits, plays and/or pitching performances.

“They’re a gritty bunch and it’s just awesome to coach these boys,” Labrador said. “They’re emotional kids and we feed off the energy. It’s a lot of fun and we have all of Jersey shaking and those stands were shaking. It was pretty awesome.”

Following the Louisiana game, New Jersey players thanked their fans who thanked them back. They then took the field one last time and scooped cups of infield dirt, one last memento to take home from an unforgettable summer.

Rhode Island and New Jersey literally traveled the same road to the Little League World Series. Now they have the opportunity to savor everything they achieved, all the memories they created for as long as they live.

And that might mean more than any world championship ever could.

“That’s been the message since we got here. Every step of the way, you just have to soak it all in,” Labrador said. “I told them (Wednesday) when it was all over that for 12-year-olds today was our graduation day. What a place to hold the ceremony right now, in Williamsport. Grab the dirt, put it on the shelf or on top of the mantle. There are a select few that have played in this place right here. That’s a special cup right there.”

And these were two special teams.

Masse may be reached at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse.

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