Connecticut likes its position

The Westport, Conn., players were like many when they first arrived at the Little League World Series.

They viewed the fields with awe and reveled in living a dream come true. For a moment, they were content.

Now, though, they realize they can do much more. Now they are far from satisfied.

New England Region champ Connecticut won its first two Series games, edging both Southeast champ Nashville, Tenn., and Northwest champ Sammamish, Wash. It has advanced to Wednesday’s winner’s bracket final and is just a win away from reaching the U.S. championship.

“It feels really special,” catcher Matt Stone said following Sunday’s 9-7 win over Washington. “When we came here we were happy to be here, but now we feel like we have a chance to win it.”

Connecticut reaching this point is big news. It has a chance to become the first New England team to reach a U.S. final since Saugus, Mass., in 2003. The only New England teams to have won two Series games since that year are New Hampshire in 2006, and Fairfield, Conn., last year.

Neither of those teams started 2-0, however. This team has yet to lose, going 17-0 while defeating Trumbull and Connecticut dynasty Fairfield in districts. A team from Trumbull won the Series in 1989.

The harsh winters make playing baseball year-round impossible. The tough competition makes it near unthinkable to be undefeated this late in August.

But Connecticut is here. This team is bringing New England out of the cold.

“Give a lot of credit to Connecticut,” Washington manager Rob Chandler said. “That is a good baseball team. They hit the ball hard and they play good defense.”

Connecticut has shown its entire arsenal in its first two wins. It used stellar pitching and timely hitting to beat Tennessee, out of the always-tough Southeast region. Sunday, it broke out offensively, hitting up and down the lineup while scoring nine runs in the first three innings.

Then the New England champions revealed their toughness. Washington cut the deficit to 9-7 with no outs in the fifth inning and had the tying runs on base. On the brink of disaster, Stone threw out a runner trying to steal third and reliever Alex Reiner retired the next two hitters.

An inning later, Washington again put the tying runs on base, but Reiner ended the game with a strikeout. A team that has thrived in close games all summer was at its best under the most intense of pressure.

“It was just a big sigh of relief knowing we got the win and we’re in the U.S. semifinals,” Reiner said.

“That experience of being in those close games helps a lot,” Connecticut manager Tim Rogers said. “The momentum turned, but the kids never gave up. They stuck with it and they battled all the way through.”

Because they did, Connecticut is one win from reaching a game its region has not played in since 2003. The New England champions have all their pitchers available as well, including ace Chad Knight who has 39 strikeouts since the start of regionals.

“If you would have told me we’d have all our pitching and would be in the semifinals, I’d say sign me up,” Rogers said. “We could not ask to be in a better situation.”

The New England region could not ask for a better team.