Forest Hills Manager Phil Fragale was not too optimistic when he held tryouts for the Major Division (11-12 year-olds) travel team. However, once play started in the New York District 26 tournament, his players made believers out of him.
Despite trailing in four of five games, Forest Hills shocked the rest of the borough, winning their last three games to earn the Major Division crown. They advance to the New York Section 3 tournament for the first time in three years. Forest Hills will play Friday night at Friendship Field at the Glover Field Complex in Pelham, N.Y. with a chance to inch closer to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
“They played over their heads,” Fragale said. “They played very well. They came from behind every game. It was like a snowball effect. They were on a high.”
In the title game, Forest Hills actually led first, moving ahead on Michael Rogers’ homerun and Daniel Scarpulla’s two-run double. However, Elmjack Little League, who knocked Forest Hills into the loser’s bracket, 3-2, earlier in the week, answered with six straight runs. Fortunately, the Bombers had grown used to coming back by now. Rogers homered for the second time in the fourth, Daniel Gaitan added an RBI single in the fifth, and Michael Kytka drove in the go-ahead runs in the sixth. Gaitan closed out the 7-6 victory on the mound.
The most dramatic moment of their five-game run, though, came after the loss to Elmjack, when Forest Hills met the Bayside Little League, with both teams facing elimination. It belonged to Rogers, whose two-run homer to center field on an 0-2 pitch forced extra innings. In the eighth, Gaitan eliminated Bayside, a perennial power at this age group, with a single to center. Brett Wisner pitched 2 2/3 innings for the win. They topped Elmjack 7-3 in their next game to force the winner-take-all rematch with the Northwest Queens Little League representatives. Ultimately, like the rest of the week, they rallied in dramatic fashion.
“It surprised me,” Fragale said of Forest Hills’ unlikely crown. “We’re not a powerhouse. They are tough minded kids. You never know.”