It took a bracket full of fellow state champions for North Kingstown/Wickford Little League’s 11-year-old all-stars to finally meet their match this summer.
The district and state champions finished 1-3 at the Little League East Region Tournament of Champions in Beverley, Massachusetts, last week. The team lost its opener to Connecticut, beat New York, then lost a close game to New Hampshire before falling to Massachusetts in its pool play finale. The defeats ended a memorable ride for NKW, which had won eight consecutive games in district and state tournament play.
“Making it to regionals, winning districts and states, was just an incredible accomplishment for this team,” manager Dino Ciarniello said. “We were so happy to represent Rhode Island and North Kingstown/Wickford Little League. We didn’t fare as well as we hoped but I don’t want our performance in regionals overlooking what the team did to get there. Great accomplishments and great memories that none of us will ever forget.”
Facing Connecticut’s Fairfield National Little League in the tournament opener, NKW was held to two hits and shut-out in an 8-0 loss. Connecticut, which went on to win the tournament championship, took advantage of some rare shaky defense from NKW to pull away.
Against New York’s Great Kills National on Thursday, NKW trailed 1-0 for much of the game, in danger of falling to 0-2 in pool play. Instead, NKW rallied with five runs in the top of the sixth inning en route to a 5-2 win. Brandon Venditto pitched four solid innings and Jack Diano had two hits and an RBI.
“We had opportunities in that game so we felt like we had a chance, and we were able to break through,” Ciarniello said.
Having shaken off the opening-round loss and picked up a key win, NKW was riding high into a crucial matchup with Bedford, New Hampshire. What followed was the closest game of the entire tournament, but NKW fell short in a 1-0 pitchers duel.
“We thought we had some momentum going into that game, but we just couldn’t put any offense together,” Ciarniello said. “We didn’t have enough opportunities.
The game was in a scoreless deadlock until New Hampshire scored in the fifth inning, breaking up Chris Ciarniello’s shutout bid. NKW, which was held to one hit, could not rally.
The loss all but eliminated NKW from a shot at playing for the regional crown.
“You had to finish in the top two, and that put us at 1-2,” Ciarniello said. “That was the one we really needed to get.”
In its tournament finale, NKW and Hamilton-Wenham Little League of Massachusetts, were tied 0-0 until the fourth, when Hamilton-Wenham busted through for four runs. The Massachusetts squad went on to a 6-0 win.
Connecticut beat Keystone, Pennsylvania, to capture the regional championship.
“Overall, it was a great experience,” Ciarniello said. “I think the players really enjoyed being able to play the top teams and test themselves at that level. It was a lot of fun.”
While summer is over for NKW, another year of Little League remains. The squad will try to defend its title in the 12-year-old bracket next year.
“We’ll certainly be excited to get it started again,” Ciarniello said. “We’ll have to get back to practicing hard once we get into all-star season.”