With two outs in the sixth and a runner on first, Commack South's Nicholas Messina smacked a sharp line drive to second base.
But Alec Acri was ready and waiting. And with the second baseman’s smooth catch, the North Bellmore-North Merrick Rebels won the Section 6 Little League final on Saturday afternoon, bringing the 12-year-olds one step closer to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
The team now continues on to the state tournament and will play 2 p.m. Tuesday at the North Shore Little League complex in Rocky Point. The winner of the state final then goes on to play in Bristol, Conn. for a chance to represent the Mid-Atlantic region in the Little League World Series set to begin on Aug. 16.
“I was impressed today by the sportsmanship of the players and coaches on both teams,” said Gina Bitsimis, assistant Section 6 coordinator. “It takes a lot of hard work to be the last two teams standing and both teams should be commended on the valiant effort they put forth.”
A rematch of the game they lost to Commack South on Thursday night, North Bellmore-North Merrick played like they had something to prove on Saturday at Lions Field in Port Washington.
“These two sets of coaches I thought were extraordinary in their attitude and sportsmanship,” said Bitsimis. “They’re some of the best I have encountered in 11 years.”
Winning by a score 6-1, North Bellmore-North Merrick jumped out to an early one run lead in the bottom of the first inning and followed up in the second with a big RBI double onto the wall in center field off of the bat of Matthew Nilsen.
Pitcher Brian Porricelli dominated Commack South through 5 1/3 scoreless innings. He struck out 16, allowing only one hit and one walk, and threw 89 pitches. Of the 16 outs Porricelli recorded, only one was not a strikeout.
When Commack South loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth inning, the score was still tight: a two-run game. The leadoff hitter made it to first base on a dropped third strike, the next batter singled and the third followed up with a walk.
Right when it appeared that North Bellmore-North Merrick might have blinked, Porricelli reared back and struck out the next three batters to end the inning and the only threat of the game to North Bellmore-North Merrick's bid for the win.
North Bellmore-North Merrick's extended their lead in the bottom of the fifth, putting up four more runs off of the bats of Matt Conry and Matt Coster. With that, the score was 6-0 heading into the final inning.
But Commack South refused to go quietly. With only one out in the inning, the team rallied for a double followed by a single and just like that it seemed the momentum had shifted.
After a fielder’s choice drove in Commack South's first run, the score was 6-1, but the game was down to its last out. Then ended with Messina’s line drive to second.
After making the game-ending catch, Acri was mobbed on the field by his teammates, coaches and dozens of family and friends.
As the teams lined up at home plate to shake hands, the fans from both teams gave the boys a heartfelt standing ovation; these teams have been practicing and playing together for months.
“We’re hoping to see great things out of North Bellmore-North Merrick on the way to Bristol and hopefully Williamsport,” said Bitsimis.