NAUGATUCK -- Even with his team ahead 10-1 in the fifth inning, Fairfield National Little League 11-year-old all-star manager Larry Klein admitted he did not feel comfortable. In fact, right up until the final out, which secured Fairfield's 11-5 victory over Darien American in the State Sectional championship game Wednesday at Foley Field, Klein was feeling queasy.
Klein, mind you, is not the nervous type. He just knew what his opponent was capable of.
"I knew that team would not give up," Klein said after his team earned a berth in the best 2-out-of-3 state championship series against either Coginchaug or Mystic that begins Saturday in Manchester. "It didn't matter what the score was."
Klein was not just being polite. His team, led by Stephen Paolini, Owen Polley and winning pitcher Alexy Linsenmeyer, didn't feel safe until the final out was recorded. Until then, Fairfield had reason to worry.
"As usual, we showed no signs of letting up, even when we were down 6-1 in the second inning," Darien American manager Tom Conte said. "Our kids just don't give up."
Darien (3-2) had firmly established itself as a come-from-behind team in this tournament. Darien trailed 6-1 in the bottom of the sixth its previous game against Berlin with the winner advancing to the final, and won 7-6.
Earlier against Fairfield, Darien trailed 6-3 in its final at bat. But Reid Gesualdi's grand slam produced a 7-6 victory.
Wednesday the hole got a lot deeper. Polley's two-run triple highlighted a three-run first inning for Fairfield (4-1), and Paolini, who had four hits and three RBI, had a two-run double in the three-run second inning that made it 6-1. This led one Darien dad to proclaim, "We've got them just where we want them."
But two innings later it was a nine-run deficit. Paolini and Polley singled in runs in the third and Linsenmeyer's two-run homer in the fourth made it 10-1.
"My hat goes off to Fairfield, they're a very good team," Conte said. "They hit the ball very well, from top to bottom, and they got the best of us today."
There would, of course, be a Darien comeback. Jack Bogdan's single keyed a three-run fifth-inning rally off Fairfield reliever C.J. Palmieri, and after Fairfield added an unearned run in the fifth, Darien made Klein and his team sweat a little more in the sixth. Sean O'Malley's single and three walks made it 11-5 and the bases were loaded with two outs. But Fairfield reliever Dan Fallacaro got the final out.
"We're excited to keep playing," Klein said. "We've been at it for 45 days and these kids still want to play baseball. It's great."
Besides Paolini, Polley had three hits and three RBI for Fairfield while Linsenmeyer had two hits and two RBI. Fallacaro and Connor Curley each added two hits.
Nick Conte had a double and Max Deberadinis had two RBIs for Darien.
Fairfield National 11, Darien American 5
DARIEN AMERICAN 101031--5 5 1
FAIRFIELD NATIONAL 332 21X--11 15 0
Records: Darien American 3-2, Fairfield National 4-1
Batteries: DA--Jack Bogdan (L), Max Deberadinis (2) and Sean O'Malley; FN--Alexy Linsenmeyer (W), C.J. Palmieri (5), Dan Fallacaro (5) and Fallacaro, Owen Polley. Doubles: DA--Nick Conte; FN--Connor Curley, Stephen Paolini. Triples: FN--Polley. Home Runs: FN--Linsenmeyer.