Thursday August 15, 2013
The two all-star teams of the South Burlington Little League have been barnstorming across New England, swinging their bats throughout the dog-days of summer with one goal in mind: reaching a coveted berth in the annual Bristol, CT Little League World Series. Despite both the 9/10 and 11/12 South Burlington teams ending their tournament run this past week with 13-9 and 5-2 losses to Southington South, CT and Lincoln, RI, respectively, it has been a fun-filled and action packed run for both the players and their supporting families.
Several South Burlington families had the daunting task of following players on both the 9/10 and 11/12 teams, attempting to cover multiple games as they navigated a precarious schedule up and down the east coast. However, these dedicated parents and loyal baseball fans were eager to take on the challenge in order to cheer on their boys of summer.
Jennifer McGrath added up the miles that three Moms racked up during the summer road trip to watch their McGrath, Klesch and O’Connor sons play ball. “We put on over 1200 miles driving, and 900 of those miles were driving back and forth with my co-pilots Julie Dale & Bethany Thompson. It was 113 miles one way from Rhode Island to the Connecticut ball fields,” she said. “The trickiest day was getting to the 10:00 a.m. semi-final game in Bristol, CT from RI, staying for 2 hours, then getting back in the car to catch the final pool play game for our 9/10 boys by 2:00 pm that day. That was a bit exhausting, but worth every minute...we knew this was a possible last Little League game of our 11/12 boys career and we couldn’t miss it,” she recalled.
Sean McGrath not only split time cheering for his sons Connor and Seamus, but also acted as a coach for the 11/12 team. “It has been a great summer of baseball.” said McGrath, “It’s always on the go for all of us, so my wife Jennifer and I split time between cheering on the kids. Our practices are roughly at the same times, so I am with the boys to and from, but we’re forced to split time during the tournaments. Both teams have supported each other tremendously, both on the road and cheering for each other on the field.”
The two South Burlington teams represent some of the most talented and dedicated young ball players in their respective age brackets. Donna Kaczmarek, a South Burlington Little League board member since 2001, explained the development of the program and the selection process that took these talented athletes from South Burlington, VT to ballparks all over the east coast. “South Burlington’s all-volunteer program has been chartered with Little League International since 1980 with a baseball program.” said Kaczmarek. “We added softball in 2007. We had 229 boys and 85 girls registered this year, with over 100 volunteer managers, coaches, and parents.”
Kaczmarek went on to describe the selection process that went into creating the 9/10 and 11/12 all-star teams. “All players must be residents of South Burlington.” she continued. “All-star players are chosen by the league’s managers and coaches via an objective voting process, critiquing a player’s skills, commitment, knowledge, and coachability. In the 11/12 division, the players also have a hand in voting for whom they believe should make the all-star team.” After a diligent selection process, the 9/10 and 11/12 teams were ready to take the field.
Representing South Burlington’s 11/12 roster were Max Plunkett, Nick Liscinsky, Chance O’Connor, Ethan Klesch, Sammy Premsagar, Ben Tate, Connor McGrath, John Thibeault, Mat Guyette, Kevin Papariello, Ryan Sargeant, and Gregory Knowles. The tournament kicked off on Friday, August 2nd, as South Burlington’s elder roster traveled to Connecticut to face off against Westport. The first game of the tournament proved a challenge for South Burlington, and despite five strikeouts and a key RBI from Premsagar, they wound up dropping the first game of the tournament to Westport by a score of 9-2. Chance O’Connor was strong at the plate, with a hit and an RBI in the contest. South Burlington shook off the disappointing loss and regrouped for a resounding win the next day against Rye, NH. South Burlington notched a run in the first inning, and got strong pitching performances from both Ben Tate and Ethan Klesch, who finished with six and two strikeouts on the afternoon, respectively. After a scoreless second, South Burlington took off in the third inning, scoring three runs, and continued to crush the ball throughout the rest of the game. With three more runs in the fourth inning and five scores in the fifth, the team wrapped up a tidy 12-2 victory over Rye. Premsagar led the team at the plate with three hits, while O’Connor and Klesch belted two a piece. South Burlington had a much needed day of rest and it showed when they took the field against Lincoln, RI on Monday, August 5. The team scored another quick run in the first inning, but Lincoln matched them in the second to tie the game at 1-1. Chance O’Connor had another dominant performance in the batter’s box, swatting a pair of hits and driving in three runs as South Burlington keyed off of a four-run fourth inning to cruise to an 8-1 victory. Sammy Premsagar and Kevin Papariello had two hits apiece in the game, while Max Plunkett carefully navigated the Lincoln pitching staff to draw a pair of key walks. Ethan Klesch drove in two runs in the win, while Plunkett contributed an RBI. Defensively, Premsagar hurled another masterful pitching performance from the mound, striking out seven batters, while Nick Liscinsky contributed a strikeout in the win.
Tuesday’s game was fueled with an extra dose of excitement for the team, as South Burlington’s matchup against Saco, ME was being broadcast live on NESN. South Burlington found a stiffer challenge in Saco’s pitching staff. Nick Liscinsky got out of a challenging inning on the pitchers mound early in the game, but came back with two key hits later in the contest, batting in two runs. Ben Tate struck out six to keep Saco at bay and South Burlington got two strikeouts from Matt Guyette who stepped in to close out the game. It was a bases-loaded walk given up to Ryan Sargeant that ultimately gave South Burlington a 3-2 edge in the 6th inning. The walk was Sargeant’s second of the game. Ethan Klesch contributed two hits in the win.
In their second straight televised game, South Burlington faced a rematch against Lincoln. Chance O’Connor had a pair of hits in the game, and got his team on the board in the first inning by batting in teammate Max Plunkett. Sammy Premsagar crushed a homerun in the second inning to extend South Burlington’s lead, but even the solo shot couldn’t slow down the pitching performance of Lincoln’s Kyle Marrapese. Marrapese pitched 5 1/3 innings for his team and struck out twelve South Burlington batters. In the meantime, Lincoln put the ball in play throughout the final three innings, scoring five runs to sink South Burlington 5-2. The loss wrapped up the 11/12 group’s tournament run- Premsagar finished with a .545 batting average in the tournament, while Connor McGrath and Kevin Papariello finished the summer hitting .500.
South Burlington’s 9/10 team went undefeated through their first four games of pool play, with a 6-4 win over Windham, ME, 13-9 victory over Portsmouth, RI, a narrow 8-7 win over North Andover, MA, and 9-9 tie against Southington South, CT. South Burlington got strong pitching performances throughout the tournament from Seamus McGrath and Aaron Murakami, while Mason Klesch and Nolan Antonicci led their team from the plate.Additional supportcame from team members Devonte Jackson, Kaiden O'Connor, EthanM oore, and JamesPatrick. South Burlington’s victory over North Andover provided one of the most exciting moments of the tournament for coaches Fitzgerald, Muarakami and Moore,and parents. Much like the 11/12’s walk-win over Sacco, South Burlington pulled away from North Andover on a bases-loaded walk after a clutch hit by Will Bruns tied the game at 8-8. With runner on all three bases, Tyler Gammon managed to draw a walk to score pinch runner Ethan Borick.
Two days later, Southington South, CT upended the VT champs in a hard-fought loss, with Southington scoring four runs in the sixth inning and snatching victory away from South Burlington in the seventh by a score of 13-9. Nolan Antonicci belted a pair of RBI’s in the game, and wrapped up the tournament with his team’s highest batting average.
While exiting the tournament was disappointing for both teams, it’s clear from talking to coaches, parents, and players that the experience qualified by more than the simple mathematics of wins and losses. Chris O’Connor, father of 11/12’s Chance and 9/10’s Kaiden O’Connor (as well as South Burlington softball all-star Shea O’Connor) weighed in on the experience of the tournament for his family and the indelible meaning that comes with playing the game of baseball and representing the state of Vermont on a national stage. “I don’t believe I can do the experience justice.” said O’Connor “Watching my boys play at this level is something that will be with me forever. More importantly, it was an opportunity that they earned through hard work and dedication and those experiences last a lifetime. Their bonds with their teammates and the other teams will be long lasting.” However, O’Connor recognizes that it is the hard work and dedication of the South Burlington baseball family that makes these opportunities possible for all the young baseball players in the community. “I have to take this opportunity to thank South Burlington Little League and the individual families who helped make this experience possible. Watching my boys experience this opportunity makes me realize how lucky they are. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my summer!”
Tim Kaczmarek, aka “Coach Kaz”, a board member since 1998, has been president of the league for ten out of his sixteen seasons. Kaczmarek noted that this endeavor is truly a team effort in every sense. He is “grateful to the dedication, commitment and effort of our league’s many volunteer managers, coaches, umpires, and team parents,” he said. “South Burlington Little League is especially appreciative of the SB Recreation Department staff in keeping our fields in such good condition and to the many wonderful volunteers at Burlington’s Schifilliti Park, the host ballpark for District 1 tournament games. Their time, effort and commitment are priceless to the All-Star season and their volunteerism is always done with a smile to honor the legacy of the late Charlie Schifilliti,” he said.
SOURCE: Peter Caulkins