M.O.T. rallies for Major League state title

M.O.T. players celebrate after winning the Little League Major state championship Wednesday night. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

MIDDLETOWN — Maybe this state title didn’t carry with it a ticket to Bristol and dreams of the Little League World Series.

But, of course, a lot of kids didn’t even get to play any organized baseball this summer.

And M.O.T.’s players looked just as happy as kids in any other year as they celebrated their Major League state crown on Wednesday night.

The Middletown-area squad earned the celebration by rallying past stubborn Canal, 7-6, to capture the league’s first Major League state title since 2015.

The fact that it came in a year when regionals and a World Series won’t be played in Little League’s age division for 11-12 year-olds because of the coronavirus pandemic didn’t seem like that big a deal. The youngsters still happily posed for photos and paraded around the field with their championship flag.

“At the end of the day, you get a chance to play,” said M.O.T. manager Jeff Simpson. “Whether it’s eight teams, whether it’s the old format, you get a chance to play good competitive baseball.

“It’s huge,” he said about winning the crown. “It was a little bit disappointing way back when we knew the Little League World Series wasn’t going to happen. You weren’t going to get regionals. But, at the end of the day, when the ump yells, ‘Play ball,’ it’s playing ball.”

M.O.T. won the eight-team, double-elimination tournament with a 4-1 record. Canal, which won five games in a row after losing its tourney opener, finished 5-2.

Relief pitcher Emmett Robinson sends a heater to the plate and held Canal scoreless in the final innings to notch the win.

Fueled by a four-run second inning, Canal eventually went up 6-2. But M.O.T. got three runs back in the third and was still down 6-5 in the bottom of the fifth.

That’s when Gavin Lindo, in his only at-bat of the night, drilled a double into the left-field corner. The clutch hit scored Cole Blanton with the tying run.

Pinch-runner Hunter Walsh then scored the winning run on an error on a ball hit to the outfield by Dylan Schimpf.

“Our reserves were fantastic,” said Simpson. “It’s funny, Gavin was on my Little League team last year. … He comes up with the bases loaded (last year) and wins the championship. I just joked with him, ‘All you do is get big, championship game-winning hits.’”

“It’s not my first time I’ve been in this situation,” said Lindo. “All I was looking to do was hit the ball in play. I got an inside, off-speed pitch and I drove it.”

“It is disappointing that we didn’t get to go (to a regional). But the fact that I was able to help our team here is really exciting — probably even more exciting than going to the Little League World Series.”

M.O.T.’s Gavin Lindo gets high-fives from teammates in the dugout after he tied the game with a hit in the 5th inning.

Once M.O.T. took the lead, reliever Emmett Robinson shut the door. Entering the game in the fourth, the left-hander struck out five, didn’t give up a hit and only allowed two baserunners.

Robinson ended the game with a third-strike curveball that froze the Canal batter.

“Emmett pitched a gem,” said Lindo. “He just pounded the strike zone. He really is what won us the game.”

“It’s a championship game, lights, everybody’s watching, you’ve got two outs, bottom of the sixth,” said Robinson. “Teammates are cheering you up, parents are cheering you up. I hear the other parents telling their kid, ‘Get a hit.’ It’s crazy.”

Cole Blanton of M.O.T. watches the ball drop into right field for a double that chased home two runs in the Little League Major championship game.

“I was confident and scared at the same time, because I know Canal’s a good team and they have a lot of hitters. But I was confident because I know I have my team to field the ball.”

On a night when both teams made some defensive mistakes — in part because of the setting sun in their eyes — Canal got three RBI and three hits from leadoff hitter Shane Klapinsky. Shane Connor also drove in a run.

“They’re a good team,” said Simpson. “Obviously they’ve been on fire. They had one heck of a run.”

M.O.T. answered with three RBI from Blanton, who had a two-run triple in the third.

With Tuesday’s game also being decided by a 7-6 score — in Canal’s favor — Simpson said there really wasn’t much that separated the two teams.

“I told them (Canal’s coaches) in the bottom of the fifth, ‘It’s another close game,’” said Simpson. “I joked with them, I said, ‘We’ll play two at your place and we’ll have a best-of-seven and we’ll see what happens.’”