By Matt Williams
---- — There are 16 Little League Williamsport all-star teams left in Massachusetts, dreaming about representing their state at New England Regionals in Connecticut.
By the end of the weekend, it’ll be down to the final four.
The Section 4 tournament begins tonight at Wyoma in Lynn with Peabody West, Beverly, North Andover East and Weston playing a round-robin slate of games at Reinfuss Field over the next three days. The two teams with the best records will play for the sectional title, and a spot in the state finals in Roxbury next week, in a winner-take-all game Saturday.
For North Shore fans, the marquee matchup is tonight’s showdown between District 15 champion Beverly and District 16 titlist Peabody West (7:45). A perennial power, Peabody won six straight Section 4 crowns from 2006-11; Beverly hasn’t been this far since 1993, but the programs are familiar with each other since Peabody West played in District 15 up until 2010.
“We haven’t seen them this year, but we’ve seen them in the Districts in the past and they’re always good. They’re the staple in the area and we know we’ll have our hands full,” Beverly manager Jim Cross said of Peabody. “We’re keeping the kids loose. It’s another baseball game, they know what they’re supposed to do and how they’re capable of playing.”
Beverly plays North Andover East tomorrow and Weston on Friday. The Orange-and-Black youngsters enter sectional play with a 7-1 record and the best run-differential of any of the four clubs with an aggregate score of 87-27.
Power hitters in the middle like Ryan Barror and Matt Cross give the Beverly lineup plenty of pop. The team also has a fair amount of pitching depth: Jon Gilbride, Joe Ward, Brayden Clark and Kyle Camara are all capable of throwing.
“The city’s been behind us and we’ve had great support,” said Cross. “We’re just really happy to get started. We can’t wait.”
Peabody (5-0) has a staff ace in Nick Iannuzzi, who was the winning pitcher in his team’s first three District 16 games and threw to the 85-pitch limit in the championship win over Lynnfield. Dan Marshall earned Peabody West’s other victories while Jonathan Polignone also threw.
The Tanner City kids outscored their opponents 36-10 in District play. They didn’t hit a ton of homers, but found ways to score with clutch hits from Iannuzzi, Josh Cerretani, Dom Lewis, Christian Cummings and Josh Mulready.
Pitching depth could certainly be a big factor in the Section 4 tourney, as the winning team will have played four games in four days. Little League rules require four days of rest for a player throwing 66 or more pitches, three days for a pitcher tossing 51-65, two for a player throwing 36-50, one for a pitcher tossing 21-25 and no rest for a pitcher under 20 pitches in a given day.
“In any Little League tournament, pitch count is going to be big. Winning is the most important part — if you don’t win, then setting up pitching doesn’t do you any favors,” said Cross. “But, if you’re in a position to kind of maneuver some things and keep pitchers available, you have to think about it. Our first goal is still to win the games.”
North Andover East comes from District 14 with a 6-2 record and having outscored their opponents, 62-28. They toppled Andover National in their district’s championship series (a best 2-out-of-3), and with eight games under their belt they’re battle-tested. North Andover opens with Weston today (5:30 p.m.), then plays Beverly tomorrow and Peabody West on Friday.
“We’ve used eight pitchers. We’re expecting to play against some very good teams, and who knows what’s going to happen?” said North Andover East manager Rob Carpentier. “We feel good about our team going in and we’re ready to go.”
Steven Hajjar and Jake McElroy both pitched well for North Andover in the District 14 tourney. Joe Quinlan and Connor Gough are two of the hitters to watch in their lineup.
Weston, the District 13 champion, went 4-1 and had a mild upset of Acton-Boxboro in their District final; A-B was the defending champ and had beaten Weston, 20-8, in pool play. Weston, which had a total score of 55-39 in its five games this summer, won the finale, however, to earn their place in Section 4.
There’s something to be said for familiarity in these situations, but for the most part these teams are playing each other for the first time.
“You never want your kids to be overconfident and you also don’t want them to get psyched out, so I think there’s a bunch of positives that go with not knowing much about the other teams,” said Carpentier. “On the flip side, it’s always good to know who the dangerous hitters are.”
As in any Little League game — or baseball game at any level, for that matter — it’ll come down to hitting with men on base and making the plays in the field.
“The three or four games puts a lot of pressure on the pitching staff. We tell our pitchers to be efficient and let the kids behind them make plays,” said Cross. “You’re getting to the point now where if you make a mistake, you know the other team will capitalize.”
If any of the teams are tied in the standings after Friday’s games, the first Little League tiebreaker is head-to-head play. If that can’t break the tie, the runs allowed ratio will be used (Runs allowed divided by defensive innings).
SECTION 4 LITTLE LEAGUE TOURNAMENT schedule Today: Weston vs. North Andover East (5:30); Peabody West vs. Beverly (7:45) Tomorrow: North Andover East vs. Beverly (5:30); Weston vs. Peabody West (7:45) Friday: Peabody West vs. North Andover East (5:30); Weston vs. Beverly (7:45) Saturday: Championship game (Top two teams) Directions: The tournament is being hosted by Wyoma Little League. Their field is located at 290 Broadway in Lynn. Following Route 1 to Route 129 into Lynn, go left onto Broadway near the square. Alternately, following Lynn Street through Peabody will lead to Broadway and the field will be on the right. Updates: Follow us on Twitter @SalemNewsSports for scores, highlights and updates.