One more game is all that stands between the Andover National All-Stars Little League team and a trip to dreamland, a.k.a. the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
The Nationals earned the right to play in the New England Region championship game Saturday, Aug. 13 by knocking off New Hampshire state champion, Goffstown, which had emerged from pool play undefeated.
Andover will play Cumberland, R.I. Saturday at 1 p.m. in a game televised by ESPN2. The game is in Bristol, Conn.
This is the first Andover team to reach this stage since 1988.
While Goffstown, N.H. has sent a few teams to the New England Region playoffs this past decade and came into the contest 4-0 in Bristol, it was the Andover team that looked more at ease in the early going. Andover jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first, as Goffstown players bobbled the ball on the first four Andover hitters while being charged with three errors.
After Goffstown answered with two home runs in the bottom of the first to take the lead 3-2, it was all Andover. Andover took a 6-3 lead in the second largely thanks to a two-out, bases-clearing double by center fielder Sam Conte.
"I think it was outside and a little high," said Conte. "I just wanted an away pitch. I wanted to shoot it the other way."
Michael Reilly put the game out of reach with a three-run homer in the fifth. A fan retrieved the ball and NESN reporter Kathryn Tappen returned it to Michael's father.
Conte snuffed out any chance of a comeback when he threw out a runner trying to stretch a single into a double in the bottom of the fifth.
Cedric Gillette pitched the first five innings, without giving up a walk.
"My dad taught me I've got to put my foot in one spot," he said. "And I have to follow through because when I don't I leave the ball very high."
Conte pitched the final inning.
With two outs in the final inning, team manager Paul Finn called time, gathered his team and told them, when they won, to behave like gentlemen by congratulating their pitcher and the other team. Superstitious television play-by-play man Jack Edwards was aghast, bringing up the ghost of the 1986 Red Sox collapse. (The Mets flashed a congratulatory message to the Red Sox before rallying to win Game 6 and then Game 7 of the World Series.) There would be no such problem for the Andover Nationals, as Conte recorded the final out.
During his postgame comments, Finn said he gathered his team because he has great respect for the game and his opponents and wants his players to show the same in victory.