BRISTOL, Conn. -- The first home run the Walpole American Little League team hit yesterday should have been a sign of what was to come in the New England Regional championship game.
Outfielder Michael Rando had not hit a homer this summer. Yesterday, Rando hit a fly ball with the bases loaded that fooled even the center fielder as it drifted and drifted toward the fence at the A. Bartlett Giamatti Little League Complex.
What seemed like a popup became a grand slam and gave Walpole a 6-2 lead in the first inning against Connecticut Shelton National. It was the first of six homers for Walpole in its 14-4 victory, which earned the team a berth in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
Although Walpole had scored its share of runs in the tournament, the offense had never been "anything like that," Walpole manager Brian Oberacker said.
His team cranked out 14 hits in the regional title game. Walpole hit five homers in its previous five games of the regional, but in that same span averaged eight runs a game.
Against Connecticut, Walpole needed its offense to make up for an early deficit.
Connecticut took a 2-0 lead on pitcher Nick Petrovich's two-run homer in the first inning. Walpole quickly answered when first baseman Michael LaVita's single with the bases loaded drove in two runs in the bottom of the inning. Catcher Kyle Donnelly followed with a single that re-loaded the bases for Rando.
"I just swung the bat and it happened to go over," Rando said. "I just wanted to get us a couple of runs."
The production did not stop there for Walpole. Johnny Adams and John White hit back-to-back homers in the second. Adams added a two-run homer in the fourth that was followed eventually by LaVita's solo shot. In the fifth, pitcher Joseph Guarino Jr. hit a solo homer out of the eighth spot.
"We score a lot of runs, and these kids can hit from 1 to 13," Walpole assistant coach Jared Ruggieri said. "I think today we showed everybody what we're capable of."
Connecticut manager Mark Testani said he knew Walpole was strong on offense, but "I didn't think they would hit that many home runs."
After the third inning, Guarino did not allow a run, relying on a knuckle-curve his friend's brother taught him when he was 10 to keep hitters off-balance.
"They were a very good team that we matched up well with, and they should be very proud of themselves," Walpole assistant coach Wayne Oberacker said.
Members of both teams said the overall experience was one they will never forget.
The game was played before 5,371 fans and an ESPN audience. After the teams warmed up, a crew meticulously groomed the infield dirt, at times using a broom to sweep away footprints.
Now Walpole will carry the experience another step when it leaves for Williamsport, where the Series begins Friday. Walpole takes a 19-1 postseason record into the World Series, as it faces Great Lakes in the first round of pool play Friday afternoon.
"I don't think anyone expected us to go this far," Guarino said. Added Adams: "It feels awesome."