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Canal nips MOT, forces state Little League title rematch

Kevin Tresolini
Delaware News Journal

MIDDLETOWN – Coronavirus pandemic limitations ensure the Little League baseball season doesn’t extend past the state tournament this year.

The Canal Little Leaguers did what was necessary Tuesday night to make sure they have one more, precious encounter.

Canal took an early five-run lead but needed to rally to nip Middletown-Odessa-Townsend 7-6 in the championship round of Delaware’s Major Little League (11- and 12-year-old) Tournament.

Canal's Doron Griffin hits a liner to right field for two RBIs and the eventual winning run in Canal's 7-6 win to force a final championship game against M.O.T. in Middletown Tuesday.

MOT would have taken the title with a win but the hosts absorbed their first tourney defeat on their own Duke Field.

The teams will return there Wednesday for a deciding game at 6 p.m.

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“Every year we’ve been so close to making it,” said Canal third baseman Doron Griffin. “This might be our year that we win it all.”

MOT will likely have the same confidence in the rematch. Joey Santoro’s three-run homer had inched MOT ahead 6-5 in the top of the fourth inning (Canal was designated as home team).

But Griffin answered with a two-run, one-out single down the right-field line in the bottom of the inning to put Canal back ahead.

Canal then escaped bases-loaded, one-out jams in the fifth and sixth innings to prevail, with shortstop Ian Fyfe’s diving stab playing a key role. Canal had earlier turned a couple double plays.

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MOT had beaten Canal 5-0 in the opening round Aug. 18. Canal battled back through the losers’ bracket to defeat Naamans, Newark National, Midway and Brandywine, thereby becoming District 2 champ, and now MOT. Canal has scored 62 runs in those five games.

“They have been smashing the ball,” said Canal coach Bryan Haupt. “We felt like we had the momentum and our bats were going to carry us through this game.”

 A three-run Canal first inning featured singles by Shane Klapinsky, Fyfe and Justin Bennighoff, Cam Black’s sacrifice fly and three MOT errors. After a rain delay of just under an hour, Nolan Richter’s two-run homer in the second inning scored Klapinsky to make it 5-0.

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Pitcher Cole Blanton’s two-run single for MOT made it 5-2 in the third inning and Logan Peters’ run-scoring hit preceded Santoro’s blast.

Canal fans cheer as Nolan Richter rounds the bases after his two-run homer gave Canal a 5-0 lead in the second inning of their eventual 7-6 win to force a final championship game in Middletown Tuesday.

The state tournament dates to 1957. MOT previously won titles in 1965, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2015. Canal was crowned in 1994 and 2005.

Typically, the Delaware champion advances to the Mid-Atlantic Regionals in Bristol, Connecticut, to vie for a berth in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Two Delaware teams – Naamans in 2003 and Newark National in 2013 – have reached the World Series.

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But COVID-19 cancelled the Regionals and World Series. Little League seasons didn’t begin until mid-June, more than two months late, because of state-mandated measures aimed at limiting the spread of the virus.

Many of the state’s organizations did not even re-start. The state Majors tournament normally consists of the three champions from District I (southern New Castle County and Kent County), District 2 (northern New Castle County) and District 3 (Sussex County). This year, it consisted of anybody who had a team.

Canal's Ian Fyfe looks to first after getting a force out against M.O.T.'s Logan Peters in Canal's 7-6 win to force a final championship game in Middletown Tuesday.

“We’ve got all 12-year-olds on our team and they got robbed of a really good chance this year,” Haupt said, “not only during the season but the playoff run. There’s no advancement after this so we’ve put all our heart and effort into winning this championship. Tomorrow’s the last time any of these kids will ever play on a [smaller] Little League field and we want them to go out as winner.”

Have an idea for a compelling local sports story or is there an issue that needs public scrutiny? Contact Kevin Tresolini at ktresolini@delawareonline.com and follow on Twitter @kevintresolini. Support local journalism by subscribing to delawareonline.com.