BEVERLY — Danvers American continues to be a thorn in the side of the Gloucester American Williamsport Little League baseball team.
Gloucester American sported a 5-0 record against all other teams in tournament play, but Danvers American beat them twice, the most recent being a 13-3 win at Harry Ball Field Saturday in the District 15 Championship game.
The road to the District 15 championship was not an easy one for Danvers American, but the team successfully battled back after losing the first game of the double elimination phase and beat Gloucester American twice in the championship games to win it all.
Danvers American hadn’t won the district since 2005, and it was a happy group that raced around Harry Ball Field with the district banner after a mercy rule victory on Saturday night.
On Friday night Danvers defeated Gloucester, 16-10 to force the “if necessary game”.
Saturday, Shane Smith ended the game early with a solo shot over the centerfield fence with two outs in the bottom of the fourth. Smith had been hitless in his first three at-bats, and was down to his last strike when he blasted one out of the park to put his team ahead by 10 runs after Jackson Leete had doubled and scored on an error. Smith’s teammates mobbed him and the celebration began.
“I just wanted to drive the ball hard,” said Smith. “He (Gloucester reliever Sal Costanzo) threw me a fast ball. It feels so good to get the hit that ends it.”
Smith’s home run was one of two for Danvers, the other one by Zach Dillon to start the third inning. At the time Danvers was clinging to a 4-3 lead, but sent 13 batters to the plate in that frame and blew the game open with seven runs to take a commanding, 11-3 lead. It marked the third straight win over Gloucester American in the tournament, and in the championship games Danvers had a 29-13 scoring advantage.
Gloucester made three errors in that big third inning, and starter Jeremy McCollum walked four batters (three later scored). The other key hit in that long inning was a two run triple by Joe Masterson.
“Danvers is a good team, very hard hitting,” said Gloucester manager Chip Smith. “They’re solid through the lineup. We’ve had some terrific battles with them the last four years; it’s a great back and forth rivalry.”
Gloucester got off to a fast start when Eric Chalmers homered to lead off the game, and Cody Burke added a solo shot to start the second inning. But that 2-0 lead quickly vanished in the home half of the second when Danvers put four runs on the board.Joe Nicolo beat out an infield hit, and starting pitcher Casey Bussone singled to left.
Nicolo came home when Max D’Amora’s bunt was thrown away, and Andrew Dembowski followed with a two run double. After Leete singled, Masterson’s grounder plated the final run for a 4-2 Danvers lead that the team never relinquished.
“We knew Gloucester could hit home runs, and it wasn’t a big surprise that Chalmers hit one out,” said Danvers manager Jeff Smith. “The big thing was there was no panic by our kids. We had to stay with it because the game isn’t decided by one or two innings, but the long haul. I think getting beat early in double elimination (by Middleton in a mercy rule game) really ended up helping us because we learned so much about ourselves from it.”
For Smith, watching his son Shane and some of his best friends celebrate the championship was a special scene.
“Personally I was happy to see Shane hit one out to end it, but even happier seeing this group of boys win the district. I’ve been working with them since they were seven or eight years old,” he said. “They won the district Jimmy Fund Tournament as nine and 10 year olds, and a strong group of 11’s took Gloucester American to the finals without four members, who were on the Williamsport team.”
Bussone started for Danvers and was charged with three runs on five hits in his three innings on the mound. He bore down when he had to with runners on base. Gloucester’s final run came in the third to cut the deficit to 4-3 when McCollum singled and Costanzo doubled.
A run came home on Jon Jon Mondello’s grounder to shortstop, but Bussone bore down to strike out the next two batters to strand Costanzo on third. Nicolo took over for a scoreless fourth inning, and both pitchers benefited from errorless defense behind them.
“We wanted to get three strong innings from Bussone,” said Jeff Smith. “He gave up some hits, but battled his way through, and Nicolo pitched well when he came in.”
Danvers belted out 10 hits led by Leete with two. Masterson, Smith, Tim Usalis, Dillon, Nicolo, Bussone, Nick Raimo, and Dembowski each had one as eight of the nine starters hit safely.Chalmers, who started at shortstop for Gloucester, had to leave the game early after injuring his shoulder in the third inning. He had homered and doubled in his first two trips to the plate.
“He’s going to the hospital to be checked out,” said manager Chip Smith. “Eric didn’t want to leave until the game was over, but he needs to get that shoulder looked at. He’s out No. 1 pitcher, but wasn’t available for this game. He can pound the ball; we’ve got a lot of guys that can.
“We had a wonderful run. This is a good team, and it was a lot of fun. If somebody told me at the beginning that we’d go all the way to the district final I’d have taken it, but you get a little taste of success and want more. I wish Danvers good luck going forward and hope they do well in the sectionals.”
Danvers American will begin pool play in the Section 4 Tournament at Harry Ball Field on Wednesday in the second game of the double header against District 16 champion Saugus American (7:30 p.m.)