As the Johnston Little League’s Rhode Island State Champion Junior All-Stars learned Saturday in Freehold, NJ, there’s much, much more to playing the game of baseball and winning.
The moment, as Johnston’s outstanding Manager Gary Rianna called it, came after the Junior All-Stars were eliminated from the high-powered double elimination Eastern Regional Tournament by North Vineland, NJ.
So, the dream of advancing to Little League Baseball’s Junior Division World Series in Taylor Michigan – just as the league’s All-Stars did in 2011 - ended all too soon for the Columbia Blue and White clad Johnstonians.
However, what transpired almost immediately after the loss spoke volumes about the JLL, in general, that’s under the leadership of President Ed Bedrosian and has been part of Rhode Island’s summer sports scene for more than a half century.
As the old adage goes, Rianna said with a wide smile on his face, “it’s not whether you win or lose, but it’s how you play the game.”
The Johnston All-Stars played it well, despite winning just once and dropping two games at Michael J. Tighe Field in Freehold, NJ.
“I was thrilled,” Rianna wanted it known. “Michael LaCava, whose league has hosted the Eastern Regional Tournament for some 15 years and counting, came over to me and asked if he could talk to our players.”
Rianna, whose voice was cracking with emotion as he related the story, said “our kids were obviously down but that changed instantly when Mike (LaCava) began talking to our players.”
What LaCava did was this: He told our kids he was impressed with each and every player and what a respectful group of young men came to New Jersey to represent Johnston and Rhode Island. He said the kids showed nothing but class in how they handled themselves and that, I say, is the mark of a true champion.”
Rianna, who has been part of the JLL fabric for many, many moons, offered, “I am proud of each and every one of these players. It was a privilege to be part of this group. I also want to thank my assistant coaches Gary Salzillo and Zach Rianna; they did a great job. The parents should be proud of our kids; this was a great, great group to coach.”
The Johnston skipper also issued a heart-warming “Thank You” to Toni-Ann Salzillo who during the All-Stars state championship run went above and beyond the call of duty to help all our kids.”
There’s yet more solace in Johnston’s 2019 appearance in the Eastern Regional tournament.
Johnston opened the 11-team event last Thursday with a hard-fought 7-2 loss to Berlin, MD., a team that on Tuesday defeated Walpole, Ma. to wrap up the Eastern Regional Championship and head to the Junior World Series in Michigan.
The 5-run loss vs. Maryland was much closer than the score indicated. Johnston bounced back with a 3-2 walk win vs. Shippensburg, Pa. courtesy of Mike Salzillo scoring the game-winning run resulted in an RBI from Michael Laflamme after a walk. The JLL Stars also rode the strong pitching of Jonah Pecchia into the winner’s circle vs. the Pennsylvania champs.
Thus, the now-proud pack of teenagers ages 13-14 who represented Rhode Island in the Eastern Regional Tournament with a host of class and character includes: Jonah Pecchia, Michael LaFlamme, Davian Nunez, Armani Arias, Michael Salzillo, Aiden McGarry, Derek Salvatore, Antonio DeFalco, Chris Civetti, Dylan Guernon, Nate Lewis, Nick Micheletti. Cutline for pix
CLASSY CLUB: This is the Johnston Little League’s Junior Division All-Star team that after sweeping through the District Tournament proved they were the bet in Rhode Island by beating all comers in the state tourney then heading to the Eastern Regional Tournament where Manager Gary Rianna’s team was toasted for the respect the club showed to opponents and spectators alike. (Submitted photo)