Just minutes after Charlie Roof ripped a two-run double Tuesday to catapult Westport Little League into the state final, he reflected on a win that almost got away.
One out and just two strikes away from advancing past Edgewood in the Section 1 final, a solo home run by the District 5 champion put that plan on hold.
Suddenly it was tied 3-3.
But Westport, unflappable, bounced right back in the bottom of the sixth inning. Three walks, sprinkled together with a pair of strikeouts, brought up Roof, who smashed a fastball to the opposite field to give Westport an eventual 5-3 win.
Afterward, Roof talked about being nervous during the dramatic turn of events -- it certainly, however, didn't show.
"I was just so nervous," Roof said. "We were just really nervous."
Through 10 games, Westport has appeared to be anything but nervous. All it's done is knock off defending state champion Fairfield National in two games, steamroll through the Section 1 tournament and put itself on the brink of the New England regional.
"They know what they're playing for," Westport manager Tim Rogers said Wednesday. "They know they have a chance to do something really special here."
The next step for Westport will begin Saturday, when the all-stars face Coginchaug -- the state runner-up last year as 11s -- in Southington at 3 p.m.
There's still plenty of work to be done before Westport can even begin to dream about making it to Williamsport, Pa., the home of the Little League World Series. But so far, what's not to like? Showing remarkable poise and abilities, the all-stars have met every challenge. Each time they were tested in Section 1 -- they were tied after the fourth inning or later in wins over Orange and Edgewood -- they responded right away. That's not easy to do.
"We showed some mental toughness there," Rogers said, referencing a 5-3 win over Orange on July 20, in which they were tied 3-3 in the fourth. "We did that again (on Tuesday), on more than one occasion."
Some teams might've let one of those games slip away, knowing there's a small margin for error in a double-elimination format, but Westport hasn't. Rogers noted that Westport's been in plenty of late-game situations before, particularly during District 2 play, and believes they're battle-tested.
Westport's first test came in district play, during the winner's bracket final on July 10, when it was tied 2-2 in the fifth against Fairfield National. The all-stars pulled off a double steal, aggressively plating the go-ahead run against a stunned National side. Westport won that game 6-2, then beat National again, 5-2, just three days later to win the district.
"Most of the games are low-scoring, very competitive games," Rogers said.
While some teams have been done in by the pressure of tournament play, Westport's proven to be cool and collective.
"They've learned a bit about how to bounce back," Rogers said, "and how to stay mentally tough."
Westport will look to carry that same demeanor as the road continues. With its pitchers -- particularly its aces, Harry Azadian and Chad Knight -- rested heading into the best-of-three state finals, Rogers says, "I don't think we could've asked to be in a better position."
At this point, what's not to like?
"I think we know and they know they're a very talented group of kids," Rogers said. "I feel like we can play with anyone."
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