There is no substitute for experience.
A year after rolling to a Hockomock League championship as 11 year olds, the Mansfield Junior 12 American youth baseball team entered the 2016 campaign with a great deal of confidence.
That confidence combined with a difficult early-season schedule helped prepare the locals for the stretch run, the result being a second consecutive Hockomock League crown for the team.
“The season was a lot of fun,” said Mansfield manager Jason Rotenberg. “The boys will only have one 12-year-old season and it was a great experience. The boys represented Mansfield well and won another league title. This group of kids are very competitive and I always thought they could do great things. As a whole, the season was a huge success. It was a blast. For the boys, there was no other way to spend a summer. All 12 boys will always remember this year. They should be proud of themselves.”
The Mansfield Junior 12A squad was comprised of 12 players this summer with all 12 youngsters entering the seventh grade in the fall. Chris Goulet, Tony Sacchetti and Al Slaney were assistant coaches.
Sean Stephenson primarily played third base and outfield for the team, while also pitching. Liam Anastasia was a catcher and outfielder, while Jack Decelles played second base.
Andrew Slaney saw time at shortstop and the outfield. Colby Geddis played second base, in the outfield and pitched, while Cian Goulet saw action at third base and in outfield and also pitched.
Aaron Blinn played first base and in the outfield and pitched for the team. Jeremy Rotenberg was a first baseman, catcher and outfielder. Anthony Sacchetti played shortstop and outfield and also pitched. Jimmy Gilleran was a first baseman and pitcher. Garrett Burke saw time at catcher and in the outfield, while also pitching. Josh Mykytiw was a third baseman for the team this summer.
“These boys are baseball players,” said Rotenberg. “We had a good offensive team this year. We had the highest scoring team in the Hockomock League during the regular season (118 runs). We also had good power arms at the beginning of the rotation. Those two things are a recipe for success.”
“And these boys always answer the bell in big games. To be able to repeat in a league as good as the Hockomock League shows the competitive level of the boys. It was an outstanding job by them.”
The Mansfield 12A squad had a very busy summer, playing a total of 32 games over the course of six weeks with the team compiling a record of 20-12 overall during that span.
“The team definitely met our expectations this year,” said Rotenberg. “We knew they were going to be a good team this year and they proved to be a good team. And they played as a team all season. The boys really bought into the team concept. They all got along well. That was a key component to our success this year. That and hard work were the keys. It was a team-first attitude by the boys all season long.”
A tough early-season schedule for the locals included contests against Rhode Island teams Lincoln and Burrillville as well as talented Massachusetts squads Medfield, Wellesley and Braintree. To show how difficult the early portion of the season was, the group of players from Braintree American won the state title as 10-year olds as did Medfield a year ago as 11 year olds. Wellesley South, who beat Mansfield 5-0 this year, is the state representative in the New England Regional, which begins Sunday in Bristol, Conn.
“We front loaded our schedule this year with some excellent teams,” said Rotenberg. “That is why we were able to get hot at the end (seven-game winning streak to end the league season, including the playoffs). I attribute that to facing such stiff competition early in the season.”
Mansfield got off to a terrific start in Hockomock League play, opening the season with road wins over Norfolk (3-2), Foxboro (12-1) and Wrentham (17-4). Following an 11-7 home loss to Norfolk, the team bounced back with an 8-0 road victory over Easton and a 14-4 home win over Franklin to stand at 5-1.
During this period, the Mansfield 12A squad also competed in the Massachusetts District 6 Little League Tournament. The team opened with a pair of impressive wins in Fall River (33-0) on July 2 and Seekonk (11-1) on July 5. During the winner’s bracket final, Mansfield fell 7-0 to a good Taunton East team in Taunton on July 7. That dropped the locals into the loser’s bracket final against Fairhaven/Acushnet. Unfortunately, Mansfield fell 14-8 on July 11. Fairhaven/Acushnet beat Taunton for the district crown.
“Repeating as Hockomock League champions was one of our two goals for the season,” said Rotenberg. “The second goal was winning the District 6 Little League championship.”
“Unfortunately, we were not able to do that. But, for it being the first year we were back in Little League, we fared well. The boys did a great job. They played well during that tournament.”
Mansfield returned to league play and dropped decisions to Plainville and North Attleboro. But the team bounced back with a 15-5 win in Bridgewater on July 17 and 9-0 in Stoughton the next day. Mansfield finished the regular season with two home wins, beating Attleboro 13-10 on July 20 and Plainville 10-9 the next day. A four-game winning streak allowed the team to finish the regular season at 9-3.
“We had a 9-3 record in the league the last two years,” said Rotenberg. “The kids played great. We had a good offense. We had a lot of power hitters on the team this year. We had a real good regular season.”
North Attleboro won the division title during the regular season with an 11-1 record. Mansfield was second at 9-3. Franklin, Norfolk and Wrentham completed the regular season in a three-way tie for third place with 8-4 records. Following the tiebreaker, Franklin was awarded the third seed with Norfolk being fourth and Wrentham fifth. Plainville finished sixth with a 6-6 mark and Easton was seventh at 5-7. Attleboro, Foxboro and Stoughton finished in a three-way tie for eighth with 3-9 records. Attleboro won the tiebreaker to secure the eighth and final spot for the league playoffs.
In the quarterfinals, Mansfield received a hard-fought battle from Easton, winning on an RBI single by Burke in the bottom of the sixth inning. In the 3-2 Mansfield win on July 25, Blinn pitched into the fourth inning for the team. Goulet relieved him in the fourth and went the rest of the way for the win.
Terrific pitching and an offensive explosion led to a 10-0 win over Franklin in the semifinals on July 27. The game was halted after four innings because of the mercy rule. Burke pitched the first three innings for the win with Gilleran finishing up the victory in the fourth inning.
“We felt good,” said Rotenberg. “We were rolling going into the playoffs.”
The win advanced Mansfield to the division championship game on July 28 at the Poncin-Hewitt Complex in Attleboro against Wrentham, who upset North Attleboro in the semifinals. It was a hard-fought contest between Mansfield and Wrentham with the locals emerging with a 6-4 victory and their second straight league crown. Burke pitched the first three innings with Goulet going the final three.
“We played error-free baseball against Wrentham,” said Rotenberg. “It was the fourth time overall we had played them this year and they had beaten us twice before this season. But we were able to play mistake-free baseball that night and we limited their big hitters to singles, rather than home runs.”
“Based off last year’s success, we knew we had a good team coming into 2016 and we leaned on that experience of winning a championship last year. The team had a lot of confidence. The kids had that sense of confidence, having done it last year.”