Newton SouthEast Little League had already lost two games in the New England Regional when they faced a must-win contest against Rye, N.H. Tuesday.
Before the game, Newton coach John Taft pulled starting pitcher Brandon Lee aside and offered a few brief words of advice. "Don't worry about where it goes," he told Lee. "Just gear up and fire it."
Lee used an aggressive approach to toss 4.1 innings with three strikeouts to earn a win for Newton SouthEast, the team's first in the New England Regional. After a 12-1 loss to Saco-Maremont, Maine and a 14-8 defeat at the hands of Lincoln, RI, Tuesday's game was a must-win for Newton if it hoped to keep its regional championship hopes alive.
"We needed it," Taft said in a phone interview. "This is when they play their best. They got their backs up against a wall, and they kick it into overdrive and take it to the next level. This is typically when they do it."
Newton SouthEast is now 12-0 in elimination games this summer after getting key contributions from up and down its lineup against Rye. Six-foot-1 shortstop Dante Taylor led the way offensively with three hits, three RBI and a two-run home run to left field in the fourth inning that pushed Newton's lead to 9-1.
Righty Zeke O'Connell came in for Lee to pitch the final 1.2 innings and struck out three with a fastball that hovered in the mid-60s.
If Newton SouthEast can beat Westport, Conn. at 4 p.m. Wednesday, it will punch its ticket to the New England Regional semifinal.
Taft -- who jokes that he has seen his gray hairs multiply in a summer full of clutch elimination-game victories -- is confident that the experience his players have gained in pressure situations will help them handle their next test in Bristol, Conn.
"We approach every game in the exact same way," he said. "None of this is out of the ordinary for them."