STAMFORD — The Hamden 12U Little League team picked a perfect day to deliver a near-perfect performance.
Hamden banged out 11 hits, including home runs from Sean Figueroa and Nate Marczak, and steamrolled Montville 12-1 in four innings, to capture the 2020 Connecticut Little League state championship Sunday at Springdale’s Drotar Park.
Apparently, the Hamden players selected the correct footwear for the game, at least in the figurative sense.
“They had their hitting shoes on today,” manager Bill Rhone, who has coached the team the past three years, said. “We’ve had games like this, but I didn’t expect it in the state championship game.”
It’s been three years of success for the kids from Hamden, who won the District 4 crown as 10-, 11-, and 12-year olds. They had lost the sectional title to Fairfield the past two seasons before breaking through this year and advancing to the state tournament.
The tournament included just four teams this year, a result of changes due to the pandemic, and Hamden swept three games, culminating in the title.
Photo: Gregory Vasil / For Hearst Connecticut Media
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“The kids got bigger and they worked hard in the offseason,” Rhone said. “They went to a training facility all last fall and winter. They stopped as soon as COVID hit, but they came back with a vengeance.”
Montville came into the game off a 4-2 win against Wallingford in Saturday’s losers bracket final and needed to beat Hamden twice on Sunday for the title. They had fallen to Hamden in a 6-5 nailbiter last weekend.
While the bid to upend Hamden fell short, manager Orlando Gonzalez said his kids showed plenty of heart to reach the final game.
“These are the true baseball players,” Gonzalez said. “A lot of kids wrote off the season and said Little League’s not happening so I’ll go do something else. When they said it was happening, the true baseball kids were running right to it. So you’ve got the purest of them, the ones who really wanted to be here, and it shows.”
Hamden received a stellar performance from ace Marczak, who pitched all four innings and allowed just one hit — a solo home run to center off the bat of Eddie Torres.
Marczak then retired the next three batters, nailing down the win with a strikeout before throwing his glove into the air to celebrate.
It wasn’t a given Marczak would pitch game one on Sunday, as Hamden also had a winner-take-all “if” game to play with had Montville won.
“We had our number one pitcher going today,” Rhone said. “We debated whether or not to hold him (for a possible second game), but we decided to go the first game and try to get it over with.”
Hamden wasted no time grabbing control in the final, batting around the order and scoring four runs in the bottom of the first. Kam Gamm drove in the first run with a single, and Brady Dummling’s RBI groundout made it 2-0. Two more runs came in on an error.
In the second, Marczak led off with a double, and Figueroa followed with his opposite-field blast over the fence in right.
“That was the big blow,” Rhone said. “Sean is usually an inside-out swinger, he usually hits the other way, and he has some pop. He hit home runs early in the districts and he stopped for a while. He’s been hitting the ball hard, but that was his first home run in a couple of games.”
Gamm and Dummling followed with singles, and scored on a two-run base hit by AJ Aurora to make it an 8-0 game.
A two-run homer by Marczak and a two-run double by Aurora plated four more in the third frame.
Torres’ home run averted the shutout for Montville, but Marczak and Hamden ended the game by the run rule in the fourth.
After the final out and the medal ceremony, the Hamden players were given the championship banner and circled the field to the cheers of their fans.
Both managers said they were happy the kids had a chance to play after the season was in doubt this summer.
“They came together and the chemistry was awesome,” Gonzalez said. “I couldn’t ask for a better bunch of kids who loved to play baseball.”
“This is great, just because we got a chance to play this year,” Rhone said. “This was all they had to do. It’s just a great feeling.”
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