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In Little League, farce ends in forfeit

BRISTOL, Conn. -- A Vermont coach's failure to have one member of his team get enough time in the game gave the Portsmouth, N.H., Little League team a victory by virtue of forfeit Friday.

The manager's oversight turned a back-and-forth game -- complete with six home runs -- into a contest marred by confusion, chaos, tears, and two ejections.

The final score of the game had Portsmouth losing, 9-8, but the team was awarded a 6-0 forfeit victory and advanced to tomorrow's championship game because of Vermont's rules infraction.

The Colchester, Vt., manager, Denis Place, did not get one player in the game for at least three consecutive defensive outs and one at-bat -- a mandatory Little League rule.

In the bottom of the fifth inning, with the game tied, 7-7, Vermont scored twice on a Nate Frieberg two-out, two-run homer. Vermont held a 9-7 lead and seemingly stood three defensive outs away from a berth in the title game.

But Vermont substitute Adam Bentley hadn't received his required share of playing time.

Portsmouth recorded the fifth inning's third out before Bentley stepped to the plate. The only way for Vermont to have a chance to get Bentley an at-bat would be if Portsmouth made a comeback.

When Place realized this, he told his players what had happened during a huddle at the pitcher's mound once the first two outs were recorded in the top of the sixth.

Keegan Taylor started the inning with a double and later scored to cut the Portsmouth deficit to 9-8. Vermont attempted to allow Portsmouth to tie the game with obvious wild pitches and poor throws in the infield.

``Call me stupid, but I didn't know anything until they wouldn't pitch to my son," Portsmouth manager Mark McCauley said. ``When they started to throw the ball into the screen, I was like, `Whoa, wait a minute. This kid just got wild.' Then one of the [Portsmouth] parents yelled down right after -- or maybe it was simultaneous: `They don't have a kid that's in.'

``Once it was obvious to me that they were playing [funny] by throwing the ball into the top of the screen, the administrators called both [managers] over and said, `You will not make a mockery of this game.' "

When Vermont continued to try to help Portsmouth tie the game, Place and Vermont pitcher Zach Tandy were ejected.

Tandy's two blatant wild pitches pushed the potential tying run to third, but McCauley instructed his player not to advance any farther. The Portsmouth manager said he also told his players to swing at poor pitches and intentionally miss, to ensure the team could protest.

``It was crystal clear to me that [the Vermont manager] was not going to let the kids decide the outcome of the game," McCauley said. ``He was going to cover his tail. He was doing what was in the best interest of his team. I had to do the same for my team."

Executing McCauley's orders, Stephen Hemming struck out to end the game.

McCauley then approached the umpires before they left the field and filed his protest. About two hours later, the rules committee in Williamsport, Pa., issued its ruling.

``I'll be drop-dead honest," said McCauley. ``I would've rather walked off that field losing, 9-8, and been ignorant to the fact that we didn't do our job to check that book. I hate this. I absolutely hate this. I wish I wasn't here. I feel absolutely horrible about it.

``You know who I feel the worst for is those Vermont kids. You can't say anything to those kids. My heart breaks for those kids."

Players from both teams and Vermont's manager were unavailable for comment. But Tammi Tandy, a Vermont team parent, insisted Place made an honest mistake.

``Was it intentional? Absolutely not," Tandy said. ``[The coaches are] in there crying their eyes out with these kids. It's just a bum deal. It's one of those freak things. You don't ever expect not to play a player. And then in the excitement, guess what happens."

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