AMHERST – If fans thought nothing could be hotter than the 90-plus degree temperatures scorching the diamond during the Little League Baseball 11-12-Year-Old All-Stars district championship at Miller Recreation Park on Saturday, they were wrong.
Pitcher Kareem Zaghloul cooled the red-hot bats of Amherst, and Westfield American cruised to a 7-1 win to become District 2 champs.
Zaghloul kept Amherst off balance all afternoon, save for a first-inning RBI single from Liam Coughlin. The Westfield pitcher tossed a complete game, and racked up several strikeouts in the process.
“Baseball is a game of chance, you just got to believe,” Zaghloul said. “If I do my part, I know my defense will do (theirs).”
After allowing three hits in the bottom of the first inning, Zaghloul did not allow one over the next two innings. He struck out two batters in the bottom of the second, retired the side – the heart of Amherst’s batting order – in the third, and got out of a jam in the bottom of the fourth with three straight strikeouts.
“If you throw strikes, good things will happen,” Zaghloul said. “You just got to throw it over the plate, hope it stays in the ballpark, and have your defense help you out.”
Westfield American took the lead in the fourth inning, and never looked back.
Aidan King singled to lead off the fourth. Pinch hitter Noah Gardner was hit by a pitch, and replaced by pinch runner Dan Provost. Zaghloul tied the game 1-all with a sac-RBI. Gardner advanced and scored the go-ahead run on wild pitches.
In the bottom half of the inning, Amherst put two runners on with a Coughlin single and Ben Oates walk. Zaghloul erased any thoughts of a rally though with three consecutive Ks.
Westfield American extended its lead in the fifth with back-to-back singles from Provost and Dominic Rinaldi, and a hard-hit ball from Gardner to take a 4-1 lead.
As the temperatures continued to soar, so did Zaghloul and Westfield American.
Zaghloul retired three of the four batters he faced in the fifth inning, striking out one batter, and inducing pop-flies to lead-off batter Ryan Leonard and arguably the home team’s best hitter, Alex Irizarry.
Westfield American’s offense tacked on three more runs in the top of the sixth with the highlight being King’s two-run double. An outfield error made it 7-1.
Zaghloul reached into the reserve tank in the sixth. With beads of sweat trickling down his face, the Westfield American pitcher retired three of the final four batters to secure the team victory.
“He was absolutely phenomenal today,” Westfield manager Mike Raposo said of his pitcher’s dominating performance. “Kareem came in today in a pressure situation, threw strikes, and did his job. Our defense came to play.”
Westfield American advances to the sectionals, and will host Pittsfield in the opening round of the tournament Wednesday at Ralph E. Sanville Field on Cross Street at 5:30 p.m.