Talk about saving your best for last.
Armando Gonzalez hit two home runs and Stamford National held Darien National to three hits over a 5-0 win in an elimination game of the District 1 Little League playoffs Tuesday night. Gonzalez called the "do-or-die" contest the best of his baseball career, one jump-started with a three-run, first-inning homer from Antonio Baranello. Darien starting pitcher James Louis, who pitched well in a 2-0 loss to Stamford National two weeks ago, struck out three over five-plus innings of work.
Both teams entered the Losers portion of the District 1 bracket after a double-digit loss in the first round. Stamford National advanced to play Stamford American Wednesday in Darien at 5:45 p.m.
"It's a testament to the kids," Stamford National manager Adrian Arango said. "They worked hard, and I'm just really proud of them. We could've come in here and not had the energy we did."
As the designated away team, Stamford opened the game by watching Louis retire two of its first three batters around a Henry Schwoerer walk. Clean-up hitter Sam Pakutka then reached on an error at third base, setting the table for Baranello, who quickly crushed a fastball over the left field fence. Gonzalez followed with his first long ball, staking Stamford to an early 4-0 lead.
"Everyone was saying that I haven't hit anything in a while, so I just came up and gave it my best for everyone," Gonzalez said. "One was right down the middle and one was a little high and outside."
Darien National left fielder Aaron Sears led off the home half of the first with a double to left, but was eventually stranded alongside Glen Fay on an inning-ending groundout to Stamford starter Dylan McMorrow. In the next half-inning, Louis worked around a pair of two-out walks with a lineout to short. However, he was victimized by Gonzalez again in the third on a towering shot to left.
"We faced the same pitcher before, and he pretty much shut us down. He did a good job pitching inside, so we were able to get our bats out this time and get ahead of it," Arango said. "We jumped on those fastballs and that's a testament to the kids being able to make adjustments and do what they needed to."
In the bottom of the fourth, Darien National managed to load the bases without a single hit, as Baranello relived McMorrow on the hill. The Stamford National third baseman then garnered two outs on a liner to each middle infield spot. Darien produced only a single base runner in the final two innings.
Shortstop Henry Williams recorded the final three outs for Darien in relief, including two swinging strikeouts.
"Their pitchers made good pitches when they needed to, but I was so proud of the way James pitched and Henry closed out. We just didn't get the hits," Darien manager Dave Williams said. "They're resilient kids. I wish I could have them for a full season."
Stamford National 5, Darien National 0
STAMFORD NATIONAL 401 000 --5 8 0
DARIEN NATIONAL 000 000 --0 3 2
Records: Stamford National 5-1; Darien National 3-3. Batteries: S--Dylan McMorrow (W), Antonio Baranello (4), Jason Suec (6) and Jack Schlach. D-- James Louis (L), Henry Williams (6) and Ben Olson. Highlights: S-- Armando Gonzalez slugged two solo home runs. Antonio Baranello hit a three-run homer in the first inning. D--James Louis struck out three batters in five-plus innings of work.