There’s been many a team labeled cardiac kids over the years, some deserving, some not so much.
But in the case of the 2011 Great Kills American team, there’s no doubt they’ve earned the moniker.
And last night, they prominently displayed why.
Noah Echavarria highlighted an incredible four-run, last-inning rally with a go-ahead single and hurler Tom Bonviso capped a superb relief performance by slamming the door as GKA captured its first Little League New York State 12s championship with a 6-5 victory over Fayetteville-Manlius at South Shore LL.
GKA, which staged its third come-from-behind win last night, earned a spot in the Mid-Atlantic Regional after winning its 10th all-star tournament game in as many tries. Coach Frank Cambria’s squad opens regional play against Maryland Friday at 5 p.m. in Bristol, Conn.
“We’re state champs because we never give up,” said Cambria, who also received an outstanding performance from Jerry Huntzinger, who finished with two hits (HR) and three RBI. “This team has the biggest heart I’ve ever seen. They fight to the end and that’s why we’re moving on.”
“All the hard work has paid off so far. This is why we practice twice a day,” added shortstop James Greig, who will get the ball against Maryland Friday. “We’ve come back before and we were confident we could do it again.”
Great Kills had the luxury of knowing if it lost last night, it would have Greig ready to pitch in a second-and-deciding contest tonight.
And with Josh Loeffler, F-M’s hard-throwing ace, on the mound — he hit 71 miles per hour on the radar gun — the task by no means would be easy.
But it became on uphill battle early when F-M rallied for five, second-inning runs against starter Carmine Bruno, including a two-run homer by Mitchell Hoalcraft and a three-run blast by Will Ierlan.
GKA, however, responded in the third as Huntzinger’s two-run single to left cut the Island squad’s deficit to 5-2.
After Bruno blanked F-M in the third, Cambria handed the ball over to Bonviso, who was making his first mound appearance in two months, partly because of a broken thumb he suffered during the regular season.
“He mixes his pitches well. He spots his fast ball and has a nice change-up,” said Cambria. “Tom just has a good, baseball mentality. Nothing fazes him and that’s one of the reasons we decided to give him a shot.”
Bonviso allowed just two hits, no walks and hit a batter in three innings. The right-hander struck out five, including three looking.
“I was a little nervous, but my job was to hold them (at five runs) and I knew if I did, we’d have a chance to come back,” Bonviso said. “I wanted to throw strikes and not allow any walks.”
Loeffler (5 1/3 IP, six hits, 5 ER, 1 BB, 5 Ks), however, allowed just one base runner over the fourth and fifth frames and took the mound in the sixth with a chance to hand GKA its first tournament loss.
But Huntzinger gave the SRO crowd a reason to believe when he belted an opposite field homer over the right-field fence to make it 5-3.
“I was just trying to get something started with a single,” Huntzinger said. “It was a fast ball down the middle and I hit it hard.
“It was a good way to start (the sixth).”
Great Kills, as it turned out, was only getting started.
Greig, Sean Fackovec and Jonathan Carbonella smacked consecutive singles to load the bases and Greig made it 5-4 by scoring on a wild pitch (Fackovec and Carbonella also advanced).
Loeffler recorded the first out by retiring Bonviso on a come-backer, but the righty reached his pitch limit and was replaced by Nick Perry.
F-M appeared to turn the momentum in its favor when Fackovec was nailed at the plate attempting to score on another wild pitch.
Perry then got Michael Briordy to ground to third, but the ball was thrown away, thus allowing Carbonella to scoot home with the game-tying run.
Briordy advanced to second on yet another wild pitch and Echavarria helped GKA earn its first lead of the game with a clean single to center.
“I really wasn’t thinking about knocking in the go-ahead run — I was just trying to get on base,” said Echavarria, whose game-saving catch helped lock up a 9-8 win in the winners’ bracket final last Saturday. “The pitch was down the middle and when I hit it, I knew it was going to fall.”
“He’s got a knack for making the big play,” added Cambria. “He’s amazing. I was confident he’d come through with a hit.”
After retiring the first two hitters in the home sixth, Bonviso allowed a two-out single to Colin Sommers (3 for 3, 2B).
The right-hander, however, reached back for a little more and struck out No. 9 hitter Luke Hamel to end the game.
NOTES: Because GKA was able to avoid a second and deciding game in the NYS championship round, it will have ace hurler Greig available for Friday’s opener vs. Maryland ... Great Kills LL will be making its first appearance at the Mid-Atlantic Regional in the loop’s 59-year history ... ESPN will televise the semifinals while ESPN2 will televise the championship game ... The Mid-Atlantic winner will advance to the 65th annual Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. between Aug. 18-28.