ORONO, Maine – An unprecedented rainy day for the Senior League World Series in Greater Bangor ended Thursday with teams from Guatemala, California, Florida and Michigan advancing to the semifinals.
Steady and sometimes heavy precipitation that began overnight and continued throughout Thursday prompted the move of the day’s four-game schedule from the natural-grass surface of Mansfield Stadium in Bangor to the artificial-turf field at the University of Maine.
And for the most part the players adapted to the less-than-stellar conditions, coping with soggy footwear but able to maintain a competitive level of play.
“You’ve got to stay mentally focused in the rain,” said Montreal pitcher Liam Wyatt. “I find that’s one of the hardest parts, just keeping yourself in the game because the weather does mess with you a bit and changes the outcome of some plays.
“But you can’t let it get to you, you’ve got to stay strong.”
SLWS executive director Mike Brooker said he was in contact with Little League officials in Williamsport, Pa., throughout the early morning hours in an effort to gain approval for playing the games at an alternate site. That approval came at approximately 9:30 a.m., and the move to the University of Maine became official a half-hour later, he said.
“It’s not nice to play in the rain but my perspective from what I’ve seen so far is I don’t think the weather has affected play in any way,” said Brooker during the third game of the day. “This is a wonderful facility to have as a backup plan. The university and [baseball] coach [Steve] Trimper have been extremely helpful in allowing us to come up here, making things easy for us.”
It marked the first time SLWS games were played anywhere other than Mansfield Stadium since the event was relocated to Bangor from Kissimmee, Fla., in 2002.
“I’ve been telling the people from away, the Texans and Californians, that it’s awful nice that this wasn’t the middle of the winter because this was a classic nor’easter,” said Brooker. “If this was January you’re looking at two feet of snow here.”
The U.S. Central champion from the Western Little League in Grand Rapids, Mich., was the only qualifier to stay dry, having completed its pool-play schedule Wednesday with a 2-2 record and securing the runner-up berth from Pool A late Thursday afternoon when Auburn, Mass., edged Montreal, Quebec, 3-2.
Auburn, Mass., and Grand Rapids, Mich., each finished with the same pool-play record, but Grand Rapids won their head-to-head meeting 7-6 last Sunday night.
Grand Rapids will be joined in the semifinals by Pool A champion Guatemala City, Guatemala, Pool B champion Lemon Grove, Calif., and Pool B runner-up South Beaches/West Melbourne Little League of Brevard County, Fla.
Guatemala City — whose final pool-play game Thursday against Maine District 3 champion Hampden was canceled after the top of the first inning due to the deteriorating conditions — will take a 3-0 record into its semifinal against 3-1 Brevard County, Fla., at 11:30 a.m., followed by 4-0 Lemon Grove, Calif., against 3-1 Grand Rapids, Mich., at 2:30 p.m.
“It’s our intention to play the semifinal games at Mansfield [on Friday],” said Brooker. “It’s our belief that if the rain stops overnight as the forecast says that Mansfield will be ready to play easily by 11:30.”
Auburn, Mass., rallied from an early 2-0 deficit to win its tournament finale. The U.S. East champions scored once in the bottom of the third on a sacrifice fly by Joe Fahey that scored Tyler Desjardins, then went ahead with a two-run rally in the fourth that featured a double by Lincoln Bois, an RBI single by Tyler Lamonda and a safety squeeze bunt by Joshua Boucher, which plated Lamonda with the go-ahead run.
Righthander Ryan Kozlowski relieved Auburn starter Ryan Mulcahy and limited the Canadian champions to no runs on two hits over the final five innings.
Kozlowski, like other pitchers throughout the day, had perhaps the biggest challenge of coping with the rain — gripping the baseball.
“I had to take some speed off of it so I could get it over the plate,” he said. “A few pitches with two strikes, 1-2 or 0-2 pitches, I tried to blow it by them and that didn’t exactly work in the rain.”
Canada (1-3) also got a solid effort from Wyatt, who pitched a complete-game five-hitter.
“You can’t really blame it on the conditions, especially hitting,” said Wyatt, whose team was making its second straight SLWS appearance. “We just didn’t execute at the plate that well. It did play a small factor, but at the end of the day the weather doesn’t matter.”
Lemon Grove, Calif., and Brevard County, Fla., earned their semifinal berths with convincing wins earlier in the day.
Brevard County topped Emilia, Italy, 13-2 in five innings, then Lemon Grove defeated the West University Little League of Houston, Texas, 9-1.
Brevard County wasted little time in its victory over the Europe-Middle East-Africa champions, scoring eight runs in the first inning. The Florida team got just three hits during the uprising, but also capitalized on six walks.
Tyler Phillips had the winners’ only extra-base hit, an RBI triple, while Austin Alsept earned the pitching win.
The Italian team finished with a 1-3 record.
Lemon Grove moved out to a 3-0 lead through five innings, then broke the contest open with five runs in the sixth inning — with the first six batters during that rally each hitting a single.
Leadoff hitter Brad Moreno led the Californians’ offense with three hits and two runs scored, while Brandon Weed pitched a four-hitter.
Houston, Texas, the 2009 SLWS champion, finished this year’s tournament with a 2-2 record.