Canton Junior League takes 4th at East Regionals

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Canton Junior League teammates celebrate at home plate after Cam Sanchez's home run.

Canton Junior League teammates celebrate at home plate after Cam Sanchez’s home run.

After capturing its second consecutive Massachusetts state title with an impressive tournament run in Oxford three weeks ago, the Canton Junior League baseball team traveled to Freehold Township, New Jersey, to compete in the East Regional Championship — the final stop en route to the Junior League World Series in Taylor, Michigan.

Unfortunately for this year’s Canton squad, the talented team of 13 and 14 year olds fell just a few wins shy, bowing out on the second-to-last day of the double-elimination tournament following a 13-6 loss to the New York state champions on August 8. Earlier that same day, the two-time Massachusetts champs had knocked out the host team (Freehold) by a 5-2 final score, and they went on to finish fourth overall with a 2-2 record, trailing only Rhode Island, New York, and the eventual East champions from Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.

Canton’s impressive showing at the regionals marked the end of another thrilling and memorable summer of baseball — a summer that began with a field of 324 teams across the Northeast and mid Atlantic and included wins at the district, sectional, and state levels. Following a sweep over Whitman in the best-of-three state championship series, the boys then departed for New Jersey on the morning of August 3 in the team van piloted by assistant coach Brian Rota, with coaches Brett Burbank, Keith Poole and Michael Rota following close behind.

After a welcome banquet and a good night’s rest, Canton opened tournament play the following afternoon against the Maine state champions, and the team started strong with a strikeout and a 4-6-3 double play to retire the Maine batters in the top of the first inning.

Canton would go on to take a 4-1 lead with single runs in each of the first four innings, highlighted by Cam Sanchez’s 340-foot homerun blast off the top of the left field scoreboard in the third. Sanchez also doubled home a run in the first while Sawyer Julier-Albert and Nathan Quan drove in the other two runs. Eric Poole, Will Ferrara, and Sean Madden each notched a hit for Canton while Steven Burbank drew a key walk in the second inning.

Meanwhile, starting pitcher Matt Connolly was able to adjust to a tight strike zone and kept the Maine hitters at bay through the first four innings. Matt Fox also chipped in defensively with a lightning-fast run deep into foul territory to pull in the first out of the second inning.

Strike zone issues persisted for both sides into the fifth inning when Maine was able to capitalize, putting up four runs to go ahead 5-4. But the Canton boys immediately responded, tying the game in the bottom of the fifth thanks to some smart base-running by Matt McDonough, who came around to score on a double by Sanchez. Later that same inning, Canton made it 6-5 on a long single by Poole.

An error in the top of the sixth turned the lead back to Maine 7-6, but Canton was not finished. Still trailing by one in the bottom of the seventh, Chris Rota and Fox both drew walks and were quickly advanced by Burbank’s single to center field. With two outs and the bases loaded, Julier-Albert came to the plate and hit the third pitch over the second baseman’s head, driving in Rota and Fox to cap the walk-off victory.

Overall, Canton finished the game with eight runs scored on 12 hits while striking out just twice and walking five times. Connolly pitched a solid five innings with Rota coming on in relief in the sixth and Quan pitching the seventh for the win.

After a tough 10-0 loss on Sunday to the eventual champs from Pennsylvania, the Canton boys returned to their winning ways on Tuesday afternoon against the host team from New Jersey. Rota drew the start and was outstanding on the hill for Canton, allowing just six hits while striking out four and walking none in a complete-game, 5-2 victory. A few Canton errors in the bottom of the seventh inning led to both of New Jersey’s runs, but a brief time-out and a coach’s trip to the mound got things back on track, solidifying the team’s second win with a grounder to third baseman Burbank, who threw to first for the final out.

The Canton bats also did their part in the victory over New Jersey, combining for five runs on RBIs by Sanchez (2), Burbank, Fox, and Connolly. Quan also had a big game with a double, a walk, and two runs scored, while Eric Mischler and Rota both chipped in with singles.

In their final game of the tournament later that same evening, the Canton boys put up a valiant effort against Ossining, New York, but were eventually overpowered in a 13-6 defeat. Burbank and Connolly each collected multiple hits for Canton while Julier-Albert, Poole, and Burbank knocked in one run apiece. Pat Morrissey added a double in the sixth inning, and Sanchez recorded the team’s final run with a deep blast to the right field fence, racing home after an unsuccessful attempt to throw him out at third.

Despite the loss, Canton managed to collect ten hits in the high-scoring affair — and made their coaches and legion of supporters very proud. They also cemented their place among the all-time great teams in Canton Little League, joining the 2008 Junior League squad that advanced to the World Series and last year’s state title-winning team that also competed at the East regionals.

For their impressive accomplishments, the team has been invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Pawtucket Red Sox game on Sunday, August 27.

Statistics and game details provided by Michael Rota, team manager

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