HOPE VALLEY — Winning the District 3 Little League baseball tournament has equated to just about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Chariho's 11-12 All-Star baseball teams.
In Chariho's 60-year history, it has won just won district title (1998). But this year's manager, Aaron Maher, knows what it takes to win a state crown. He and assistant Willy Knerr played on two Chariho Junior League state champs in the 1990s as young teens.
"This team had no idea of the league's history, but I had a feeling that this group of All-Stars had what it took to win the districts," Maher said. "I coached the league champ and saw the best kids in the league. They had the type of work ethic and talent to be capable of winning it. Obviously winning a district title is special around here."
Chariho's present All-Stars proved him right Saturday, completing a four-win run through the district with a 5-3 victory over East Greenwich at Dow Field to claim the District 3 crown.
Chariho opened district play with a 6-3 win over Coventry, defending state champ and a Little League World Series participant last year. Maher's squad wasn't overpowering but it followed with wins over North Kingston, 6-5, Warwick North, 6-4, and a heavy-hitting East Greenwich squad to take an economical path to the championship.
East Greenwich needed to beat Chariho twice to win the district.
"A team like East Greenwich had to play through the losers bracket and play four games in about five days and seven games overall to get here," Maher said. "Some say the winners have an easier path, but you earn that by winning."
Chariho led throughout Saturday but sweated out the win. Maher even went against managerial conventional wisdom when he ordered an intentional walk of power hitter Adrian Picchione, who blasted a two-run homer in his previous at-bat, to put the tying run at the plate in the bottom of the sixth.
The walk to Picchone put East Greenwich runners on first and second with Chariho up 5-2. East Greenwich ultimately plated a run, but winning pitcher Cooper Maher got the last out, getting a glove on a wicked line drive and throwing out the runner at first to end the game.
"I ordered the intentional walk because [Picchione] is such a power hitter," manager Maher said. "I didn't want him to hurt us again. I did the same thing with North Kingstown's Rock Arnold, who is another big hitter that we've seen in AAU ball. First base was open and we took our chances with the other hitters."
Maher, who pitched a five-hitter, ended with exactly 85 pitches — the limit for Little League.
Chariho took a 3-0 lead with three runs in the third. Gavin Pepler's two-run single was the key hit. Picchione's two-run homer in the fourth cut it to 3-2.
East Greenwich center fielder Joe Andreozzi made two nice plays to thwart a Chariho rally in the fifth, throwing out a runner trying to stretch a single to a double and making a diving catch on a sinking liner.
The winners added two insurance runs in the sixth on RBI singles by Everett Knerr and Maher. Adam Carpenter and Maher finished with two hits each for Chariho.