Little League: North End rallies to beat Westport

TRUMBULL — Westport Little League All-Stars coach Ron Clarke preached to his team to take one game at a time as they built towards the goal of following in the footsteps of teams that have enjoyed recent success in a competitive District 2.

His group ran into a difficult first test in North End-Bridgeport on Saturday at Unity Park to begin the season. With Westport leading 4-2 in the bottom of the fifth, a win was a handful of outs away.

One dramatic swing of the bat of North End’s Jeremy Everlith changed all that. His grand slam gave Bridgeport its first lead of the game, and North End would hold on to a 6-5 win in the summer opener for both squads.

Everlith’s shot just cleared the fence in center field and sent Westport to a bitter start to the summer season.

“The kids from North End played really hard and they never quit,” said Clarke, who has twin sons — Owen and Sean — on the team. “We made a couple of mistakes and a couple of bad breaks and that’s what happened.”

“We came up big this time,” said North End coach Jeremy Everlith “I actually missed (my son’s) first home run earlier in the season, it was great to see this one. He brought the team back and it led to this win.”

Westport rallied in the top of the sixth inning and were feet from prolonging the game. It drew walk with the bases loaded and two outs to pull to within 6-5. On the mound in relief of starter Drew Smith, Everlith induced a groundout to end the game.

“Westport blew us out pretty good last year,” coach Everlith said. “We came back here this year thinking we could compete with them. Both teams played really hard.”

The game started brightly for Westport, which jumped out to a 3-0 lead. No. 3 hitter Finn Popken belted a two-run home run in the first inning to open the scoring. Popken projects to be one of the top run producers on the team, according to Clarke.

“He’s got pop,” Clarke said. “He stays back and he drives the ball. He has surprising power for a kid his size and we actually expect that from him.”

North End rallied back behind a two-run single from Monica Mojico, before Westport added an insurance run in the top of the fifth to make it 4-2.

Matthew Spata, Cutter Frost and Tucker Lawrence will also provide the big hits for Westport, who went 1-4 in pool play at the U11 level last summer.

Westport continues play Monday against Trumbull American, and will take on Stratford and Fairfield National the following week before knockout play begins July 9.

With one loss in the books, the margin for error is likely gone.

“When I looked at this (before the tournament), I told the kids the same thing,” Clarke said. “Trust the process and not the results. The process is to take one game at a time. … Right now we just have to get the next game.”

TURNER MAKES ALL STARS DEBUT

Charlotte Turner may be the first female U12 baseball All-Star to come out of Westport according to longtime assistant Tom Whelan, but she is no stranger to the town’s productive program.

Turner, who plays second base, has been a member of Westport’s U10 and U11 teams.

“She’s a great baseball mind, she plays her heart out and she knows the game,” Clarke said. “She’s a steady, disciplined player and the best thing is all the boys treat her well. There’s no distinction, she’s been here so long they see her as a player.”

Turner is the prototypical No. 9 hitter that scratches and claws during every at bat. That was evident in spades in the summer opener against North End on Saturday at Unity Park.

Her first plate appearance came in the top of the second with no runners on base. Fouling pitch after pitch with two strikes, Turner drew a walk that began a rally for Westport.

Turner again stepped up in the fourth and again tested North End’s pitching. Grinding away at the plate, she saw 10 pitches before drawing another base on balls.

“She’s a disciplined hitter,” Clarke said. “We put her in the No. 9 hole, not because she’s a weak hitter, but because we figure she’s going to get on base and the top of the order will drive her in. She’s a great ball player.”

Turner reached base a third time in the sixth inning as Westport tried to rally to tie the game. Trailing 6-4, Turner reached first and stole second. Westport would leave the bases loaded before falling 6-5.

One game into the summer season and the future appears bright for Turner.

“She’s been playing baseball for so long and she kept improving,” Clarke said. “She decided to keep going. It’s pretty cool; it was a confidence thing. When the time comes and she wants to switch so she can play for Staples High School … As long as she plays here we’re going to put her out there.”

rlacey@bcnnew.com; @RyanLacey11