Saugus went on to win NE Title before a magical run in Little League World Series that drew national attention
By Steve Freker
Note: Some of the following info comes from the Massachusetts State Tournament website.
“What if?” holds a prominent place in the lexicon of sports at any level. It is even more lofty than the run-of-the-mill “Woulda, Coulda, Shouda” triplets. “What if?” means a team was one hit, one touchdown, one putt away from something sensational. It means a team or individual was “thisclose” to a truly spectacular feat.
So it was for the 2003 Everett Little League 12-year-old Williamsport All-Star Team – which went further in All-Star play than any team in the city’s history. This year’s win by the 2023 Everett “12s” for the District 12 title, followed by a run in the Mass. Sectionals, prompted a look back in history. Lo and behold, a memory was resurrected – and it comes in a milestone year. Added to Everett’s history-making year was another piece of Little League history. In 2003, Everett won both the District 12 and Section 4 championships and did indeed advance to its one and only appearance in the Mass. State Little League Championship.
After a one-sided drubbing in the opening round by Middleboro (17-1), Everett rallied back and made it all the way to the Mass. State Championship Game, where they fell in the double-elimination tournament to Saugus American, 11-1, In the 2003 Mass. State Tournament held at Stanley Johnson Field in Oxford, Mass. Yes, that Saugus American! This would be the 2003 Saugus American team that would go on a tear – where they would not lose another game for a month – in the United States Championship game of the Little League World Series, to Boynton Beach, Fla.
Like Everett, Saugus American reached the Massachusetts State Tournament for the first time by upending Weston, 16-1, in the Section 4 championship game at Reinfuss Field in Lynn. For Saugus, it was the beginning of a summer of firsts: first state championship, first appearance in a nationally televised game, first region championship – and first-ever trip to the Little League World Series. Saugus started its soon to be well-known penchant of manufacturing “the big inning” at the Mass. State Tournament, something they would duplicate at each of the next levels, the New Englands, then the ultimate, the Little League World Series.
The “What if” looms large! Just what if Everett had topped Saugus in that State Championship Tournament and it was Everett – not Saugus – that carried itself through the New Englands to the Williamsport World Series?
In the Mass. State Tournament, Saugus scored seven times in the top of the second inning and never looked back, topping Everett, 11-1, in the state championship game. It was the third consecutive state tournament game in which Saugus overwhelmed the opposition with a big inning. Saugus toppled Westfield North, 16-6, behind a nine-run fourth inning rally in their state tournament opener, then used a five-run third inning rally to defeat Middleboro, 7-1, and gain the championship game. Saugus rang up its big innings with a swarm of little hits. The team’s three home runs at the state tournament were all solo shots, and only one came in their decisive rallies.
“They found a way to get the ball over the infield and in front of the outfield,” said Middleboro manager Ron Holmgren after Saugus sent his team to the elimination bracket. “[They] did that today, and last night when I scouted them. They put the bat on the ball and don’t strike out.”
Another Saugus “big inning” came at a critical time in their state tournament opener. Westfield North took a 6-4 third inning lead against a depleted Saugus pitching staff, but the District 16 champions strung together seven hits and capitalized on a pair of Westfield errors to score nine runs in the fourth inning.
Saugus loaded the bases on a walk and a pair of bunt singles to open the inning, and then tied the game on hits by Dario Pizzano and Joe Kasabuski. Matt Muldoon reached on an error that plated two runs, and Dave Ferreira made it 9-6 with an RBI single. Yano Petruzzelli added a two-run double, and two more runs scored on a throwing error following Tyler Calla’s bunt. The rally made a winner out of Chris Cole, who relieved starter Mark Sacco in the third inning.
Everett, which eliminated Westfield after its opening round debacle against Middleboro, then gained revenge against the District 7 champions with a 4-3 win in the elimination bracket finals.
Middleboro led 1-0 in the early innings, but after third baseman T.H. Horan pulled a leg muscle while hustling to first base, the District 7 champion’s makeshift defense suffered. Everett scored four unearned runs, breaking a 2-2 tie when Brian Nuzzo reached well out of the strike zone to deliver a bases-loaded, two-out, two-run single in the fourth. Middleboro got one run back in the fifth, but Everett pitcher John Forte escaped further trouble and lifted his team into the championship game.
Everett had lost to Middleboro, 17-1, in its first game, but beat Westfield North, 5-1, and eliminated Middleboro, 4-3, to get to the final.
Everett stayed with Saugus early in the championship game. Joe Kasabuski’s solo home run gave the North Shore contingent a lead in the top of the first, and Everett responded when Billy Callahan’s one-hop single off the center field fence scored Forte. With two runners on and Everett threatening to score again, center fielder Cole made a diving catch of Dan Smith’s line drive and threw to second to double off the runner and end the inning.
In the top of the second, Saugus made Everett pay for the missed opportunity, stringing together seven hits, a walk and an error to score seven runs and essentially decide the game’s outcome. Ferreira led off the inning with a single to center, Calla reached on an error and Petruzzelli singled to right to load the bases. After a strikeout, the next six batters all drove in runs. Anthony DiSciscio’s blooper to right scored Ferreira, and Cole’s safety plated Calla. Dario Pizzano’s single scored pinch runner Ryan Bateman, and Kasabuski drew a walk to force in DiSciscio. Muldoon’s fielder’s choice scored Cole, and Ferreira capped the inning that he had started with a two-run single to center.
With the big lead in hand, Muldoon settled down, allowing only four hits and keeping Everett off the scoreboard for the remainder of the game. Saugus added single runs in the fourth and fifth before Muldoon capped the scoring with a line drive home run to left in the sixth.
“I don’t want to say this was far from our dreams, but you need a lot of stuff to happen to get here,” said Rochenski of his team’s state championship. “And once you win the first game, and you see there are only four teams here, you wonder why it can’t be you.”
“We had that one loss against Weston [a 10-5 drubbing in the Section 4 tournament], and it humbled us a bit,” said Rochenski.
Saugus later defeated the same team 6-0 and 16-1 in the tournament’s championship series.
“The first time we played them we just had a bad day, that’s all there was to it,” said the Saugus manager. “Of course, it’s one thing for the adults to say that, and another for the kids to actually believe it.”
Saugus captured the Bay State championship and then rolled to six wins at the New England Region tournament, including a 4-0 championship game win over Augusta West Little League (Maine) that punched the team’s ticket to South Williamsport. They ended up winning 22 of 25 postseason games.
Once in Williamsport, Saugus won four consecutive one-run decisions, including a wild 14-13 win over Southwest Region champion Lamar National Little League (Richmond, Texas) in the U.S. semifinals. Saugus’ run finally came to an end with a 9-2 loss to East Boynton Beach Little League (Florida) in the U.S. championship game.
2023 Massachusetts State Tournament
Host: Oxford (District 5) at Stanley Johnson Field
Section 1 Champions Westfield North (District 2)
Section 2 Champions Middleboro (District 7)
Section 3 Champions Everett (District 12)
Section 4 Champions Saugus American (District 16)
Opening Round: Saugus American 16, Westfield North 6 (5 innings); Middleboro 17, Everett 1 (full six innings).
Winner’s Bracket Finals: Saugus American 7, Middleboro 3.
Elimination Bracket Semifinals (four teams remain): Everett 5, Westfield North 1 (elim.).
Elimination Bracket Finals (three teams remain): Everett 4, Middleboro 3 (elim.).
Championship Game: Saugus American 11, Everett 1 (full six innings; TITLE).
D9 – East Boston; D10 – Parkway National (West Roxbury); D11 – Westwood; D12 – Everett
Section 3 Tournament; Host: Norwood (District 11) at Kelley Field.
Tournament Results: 1 – Parkway National 1, Westwood 0; 2 – Everett 11, East Boston 5; 3 – Everett 7, Parkway National 6; 4 – Westwood 4, East Boston 0 (elim.); 5 – Westwood 4, Parkway National 3 (elim.); 6 – Everett 3, Westwood 1 (TITLE).
D13 – Weston; D14 – Tewksbury American; D15 – Peabody Western; D16 – Saugus American.
Section 4 Tournament; Host: Wyoma (Lynn) (District 16) at Reinfuss Field.
Tournament Results: 1 – Weston 7, Tewksbury American 6; 2 – Saugus American 6, Peabody Western 3; 3 – Weston 10, Saugus American 5; 4 – Peabody Western 8, Tewksbury American 5 (7 innings; elim.); 5 – Saugus American 4, Peabody Western 0 (elim.); 6 – Saugus American 6, Weston 0; 7 – Saugus American 16, Weston 1 (4 innings; TITLE).