Friday’s Senior League East Regional game between the Old Town all-stars and the Mount Monadnock Little League of Jaffrey, New Hampshire, featured a combined 12 runs and 18 hits.
But a defensive play marked the pivotal moment of New Hampshire’s 8-4 victory at Mansfield Stadium.
Trailing 6-4 in the bottom of the sixth inning, Old Town had the bases loaded with two outs when Connor McCannell pulled a fly ball down the left-field line.
A base hit could have tied the game, but left fielder Hayden Ketola outran the wind and fought off the sun to make the inning-ending catch just inside fair territory to preserve New Hampshire’s lead.
“Off the bat I knew it was going down the line so I started running,” Ketola said. “I lost it in the sun for a few seconds, and the wind kept on pushing it and pushing it.
“I didn’t even know I caught it. I just looked at my glove and I had it in there.”
New Hampshire added two insurance runs in the seventh inning to secure the victory and a date in the winners’ bracket at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Old Town faces an elimination game at 4 p.m. Sunday.
“Today was a gut check for us,” said New Hampshire manager Owen Burke, whose players come from Conant High School in Jaffrey and Mascenic High School in New Ipswich. “Maine came into the game today and played as hard as they could and definitely gave us everything they had.”
Old Town outhit its New Hampshire guests 10-8, but five errors helped doom the host Maine District 3 champions..
“We threw strikes. We just didn’t bring the gloves,” Old Town manager Shane McCannell said. “There were five errors [the scorers] gave us. I had us for seven.
“We’ve got to tighten up our defense a little bit and play better.”
Colson Seppala doubled and singled and Griffin Labonte singled twice to pace New Hampshire’s offense while Ketola hit an RBI double that drove in the go-ahead during a three-run rally in the top of the sixth.
Starting pitcher Zack Dill had three singles and an RBI for Old Town, while leadoff batter Seth Haverlock singled twice, walked twice, stole two bases and scored twice in five plate appearances.
New Hampshire and Old Town were tied at 3-3 through five innings, with the Granite State nine rallying from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2.
Labonte singled to left to open the top of the sixth and special pinch runner Joe Cocozella then reached second base on Landon Valliancourt’s sacrifice.
Ketola delivered Cocozella with the go-ahead run, lofting a double the wind carried to the left-center field gap.
“I knew we had a runner in scoring position, and we needed a few runs so I was going to wait for one that was right there,” said Ketola, a rising junior at Conant High School. “Their pitcher put it right down the middle, and I put it in center and the wind took it to left.”
Seppala’s two-out single to left plated Ketola, and Seppala moved to third on a passed ball and scored on a wild pitch to give New Hampshire a 6-3 advantage.
Old Town did get one run back in the bottom of the inning as Haverlock singled, stole second, went to third on a groundout and scored on Downs’ two-out single to left.
It nearly became much more as Dill and Noah Thibodeau followed with back-to-back singles to load the bases, but Ketola showed off his defensive range by racing toward the left-field line to flag down McCannell’s threatening fly ball and end the threat.
“When the wind kept pushing it I just had to keep running,” Ketola said.