BRISTOL, Conn. – When Manager Mike Brooker and his confident band of Little Leaguers arrived at the Eastern Regional Championships here Monday, they were hopeful of making a good showing.
They have now seen all the remaining competition and believe higher goals to be well within reach.
Maine champion Bangor West, the only 2-0 team in the remaining field of eight, today faces Middleboro, Mass., a potent club which unleashed a devastating 23-hit, 18-run offensive attack against Brattleboro, Vt., Wednesday. Game time is 5 p.m.
“Our goal is to win this tournament,” Brooker said. “When we got here, we thought we would do well. But now that I’ve seen what’s here, I think we can win.”
The Eastern championship would carry with it a trip to Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series.
Much rides on the health of young Jeremy Karam’s strong left arm. Karam, Bangor’s ace, is suffering from tendinitis but will start against Brandon Brower, Middleboro’s No. 2 hurler.
“The key to the game is how effective (Jeremy) is and how long he can throw,” Brooker said. “If he can get us into the fourth or fifth inning and it’s close or we have the lead, he’ll feel stronger.”
Brooker said he would turn to Barrett Dionne for possibly an inning if the situation warranted. If Karam were to falter early, he would turn to one of four others – Josh Johnson, Wes Arnold, Dan Martin or Justin Libby.
“These are probably the fourth, fifth and sixth best pitchers in our league,” Brooker said. “They threw five to eight games during our regular season. Maybe they can get something done.”
But Brooker doesn’t expect it to come to that. He’s confident that the competitive Karam will step up in the heat of battle.
Karam’s shoulder ailment certainly hasn’t affected his hitting. He leads the way with a .714 average, a homer, two doubles and six RBIs. Dionne (4-for-6) and Martin (2-for-3) are next at .667. Johnson and catcher Charlie Makris are at .500.
The team is batting .449 and the pitching staff’s ERA is a miniscule 0.50.
But the Massachusetts entry has Bristol buzzing after ripping shots all over the park against Brattleboro, which was eliminated Thursday by Trumbull, Conn., 10-1.
“We had a couple of our parents watch them for the first few innings,” Brooker said. “They hit well but we’ll go out there and see what happens. Jeremy hasn’t given up 23 hits over the last three years.”
The Brower brothers – Bruno and Brandon – supply the muscle and the pitching for Middleboro. Shortstop Brandon Soule and outfielder Christian Perry served as table-setters Wednesday by reaching in eight of their combined 10 at bats. Each cracked four hits.
Middleboro manager Ron Holmgren, given the choice of batting first or being the home team in the opener, chose the former.
“We wanted to hit first because we have an offensive team,” he said. “We had a tough time in the states with low-scoring games so I thought batting first would loosen the kids up.”