MYSTIC — Mystic Little League 9-11 manager David Volpe labels defense as his team's "bread and butter."
Clinging to a tight lead in the sixth inning of the District 10 baseball tournament's championship game Monday, the Mystic All-Stars' defense looked more like a seven-course meal.
Staring at a Waterford potential rally and walk-off win in the bottom of the sixth, Mystic used three stellar defensive plays to protect a two-run lead with the bases loaded and no outs and escape with a 5-4 victory in a winner-take-all final at Rossie Field.
Mystic next takes a trip to the Section 3 tournament starting July 13 in Newington.
Mystic was running out of pitching after starter Jacob Schrage exhausted his pitch count of 85 after walking Waterford's leadoff batter in the sixth and allowing a single. Volpe called on Mark McBride, who had not pitched in the tournament but saw innings during the regular season. McBride walked his first batter to load the bases with nobody out and Waterford trailing 5-3 with the heart of its order upcoming.
"We were a little nervous," Volpe said. "Connor Gallagher is our number two pitcher but he's our catcher and he couldn't go in. Mark is a gamer, however."
McBride got a little help from his friends to earn a memorable save. Waterford's Gavin Pelcaro hit a hard grounder between short and third. Mystic shortstop Ethan Cabrera snagged the ball and got a force at second for one out as a run scored to make it 5-4.
Waterford's Mark Ingraham hit a looper to center, which Mystic center fielder Will Berard caught with an all-out dive. Waterford's runner at third base did not tag up and got back into third base. With two outs and two on, Waterford's Max Petrini lofted a dangerous popup behind second base, but Mystic second baseman Aaron Vislosky made a running catch to end the game.
"Succeeding in Little League is about defense and throwing strikes," Volpe said. "We try to limit our walks and let our good fielders make plays."
Waterford, which forced a deciding-game final with a 12-6 win over Mystic on Sunday, was stunned after rallying from an early 4-0 deficit and coming so close.
"We were very optimistic in the bottom of the sixth," Waterford manager Kiko Martinez said, "but Mystic made some great plays. It's tough to lose like this — the kids sacrifice half of their summer. We fought hard to come back and got a great relief performance from Vincent DeAngelis, who is a fighter."
Mystic scored three in the first on hits by Berard, Vislosky, Schrage, Will Haugeto and Tyler Spinner. Mystic added an unearned run in the second to lead 4-0.
DeAngelis relieved with one out in the fourth and allowed just one run the rest of the way.
Waterford scored twice in the third on by hits by Petrini and Zaydin Martinez to make it 4-2. A.K. Wilson doubled in the fourth and scored on Damien Silva's hit to cut Mystic's lead to 4-3.
Mystic's Chase Volpe singled in the fifth and eventually scored on an infield throwing error to make it 5-3. Mystic squandered a chance to add insurance runs in the sixth when it got three hits — Waterford tagged out two runners on base-running mistakes.
"In all-star play, you have more savvy fielders to use pump fakes and other techniques to make you pay for base-running mistakes," Volpe said. "That almost cost us."
Vislosky had three hits for Mystic.