Dave Laffey, born in Bayonne, has become a true, blue Waterford Guy. And it's not lost on him that his friends coaching other all-star teams in town suffered premature ends to their seasons recently, especially amid Waterford's ambitious expectations.
"You never take this for granted," Laffey said through a radiant smile early Saturday afternoon, the smile of a man who just won his second straight Connecticut Babe Ruth baseball championship.
Laffey, who coached the 13-year-olds to the World Series last summer, has the 14-year-olds in the New England regionals, following a 4-1 win over Trumbull that delivered another state championship to the town that wins them through habit.
"The sweetest part of all this is that we won this with a lot of kids who weren't on our team last year," Laffey said. "They all stepped up. Whether it was relief pitching or even pinch running. They were invaluable."
Winning pitcher Ryan O'Connell began the seventh inning with 13 pitches remaining before reaching the Babe Ruth-mandated pitch limit. O'Connell suddenly personified the term "economical," finishing the game.
"I didn't want anyone else to close," O'Connell said. "I wanted it to be up to me so we could hang another banner."
O'Connell escaped a bases-loaded jam in the sixth thanks to an infield fly rule call and a ground ball to short that hit a Trumbull baserunner.
"Ryan was awesome," Laffey said. "He was throwing hard and working fast. He showed a lot by being able to finish."
Waterford scored all four runs in the third. With two aboard, Ben Jerome reached on an error that led to the first run. Matt Sanford followed with a two-run double to deep right, the game's decisive hit. O'Connell singled home Sanford later in the inning.
Now the 14s of Waterford are off to the regionals in Trumbull. Waterford begins pool play on Friday.
"In past years, we had some easy games early in the tournament. Not this one," Laffey said. "We got Trumbull on day two. Mike (Trumbull coach Mike Buswell) does a great job with his team and the whole program. This was not easy. No cupcakes."
Still, Waterford finished unbeaten in the double-elimination tournament
O'Connell, too, realized what his team accomplished, given the considerable number of players who did not return to the Babe Ruth program after last season.
"We lost a lot of guys," O'Connell said. "I think we all knew the others would step up. But we also knew that we'd all have to play a lot better."
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