LYNN — Next stop: the Massachusetts Little League sectional tournament.
That's where the Peabody Little League Williamsport all-stars are headed after finishing their run to the District 16 title by going unbeaten after clinching the crown Thursday with a 13-8 win over Saugus National at Reinfuss Field.
It was the second win for the Tanner City boys over Saugus and the second championship for manager Justin Powers, who won a championship last year with Peabody's entry into the 11-year-old tourney, comprised of almost the same squad as this year's District titlists. Two years ago, Powers managed the 12-year-old PLL Williamsport team that also took the district championship.
Going a perfect 5-0 in district play, Peabody will now represent District 16 at next week's Section 4 tournament in Andover starting Wednesday. There, they'll face the champions from District 13, 14 and 15 for the right to advance to the state Little League's Final Four in Middleboro.
"I'm very proud of my guys. We had a couple of days off and they were itching to play," said Powers. "We wanted to wrap it up tonight and not have it go another game."
Saugus National would have had to defeat Peabody twice to claim the sectional trophy for themselves.
Noah Crocker had three hits and three runs batted in for Peabody, including his first career home run — a solo shot — in the fifth inning.
The winners gave themselves plenty of leeway by scoring four times in the third inning and three more runs in both the fifth and sixth innings. But Saugus never stoppled battling to get back into the game.
"I hate to be negative on such a big night, but we played a sloppy game," said Powers. "Saugus is a scrappy team with a tough lineup. They put the bat on the ball and kept coming back with runs. You have to win games in different ways ... which we did."
Saugus National manager Buddy Riley said his players never quit, but made a few uncharacteristic errors for the first time in the tournament that ultimately cost them.
"Peabody's an awesome team, and we knew they were going to hit. They all swing the bats up and down the lineup," said Riley. "I don't think anybody else scored eight runs on them. We hung in there, but just didn't make enough plays."
After Peabody scored a run in the top of the first on an RBI single by Crocker, Saugus answered with two of its own as Steven Streeter hit a two-run double to left field. Streeter later doubled again to knock in two more.
Peabody knotted it up at 2-2 in the second inning, but left the bases loaded. They batted around in the next inning and put four runs on the board, capitalizing on two walks to force in runs and Jariel Tolentino's RBI single.
But no lead was safe against Saugus. The Nats chipped away with two runs in the home half of the third as Dan Zeitz delivered a run-producing single and scored on a hit by Mike Maschella to cut the lead to 6-4.
Peabody got out of the jam when Maschella was caught off the third base bag on a good throw by the catcher.
Peabody tacked on a run in the fourth when Andrew McKenna and Tyler Santos hit back to back doubles off reliever Zeitz, who came on in the third inning after starter Luca Sapienza reached the 85 pitch limit. Crocker's homer and and a two-run single up the middle by Jayce Jean-Pierre in the fifth extended the lead, and Crocker delivered an RBI double in the sixth.
"That was my first ever homer," said Crocker. "I hit a fastball that was where I like it: high and middle in. We were all getting excited when we added those runs. We knew we were going to win."
Matt Smith started for Peabody and went four innings, giving up five runs on eight hits. He walked two and struck out seven. Tolentino came on in relief, and also chipped in at the plate with two hits.
"We know that it gets harder with every game, every round," said Powers of the upcoming sectional tournament. "We'll be facing the best of the best from three other districts."