WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- The Sand Gnats put an exclamation point on their perfect 11-0 season Tuesday, edging out the Thunder for a 6-5 victory in extra innings to win the White Plains Little League's Minors AA championship at Gedney Field.
Joey Portanova ripped a single into left field and Caleb Gillen scored the winning run with two outs in the seventh inning to give the Gnats the victory and Portanova, Brandon Flissler, Zack Blot and Tyler OBrien combined to pitch seven innings, giving up just five runs.
Coach Kevin Gillen and his assistants Frank Blot, Tom O'Brien and Alan Flissler, built the Gnats' winning season on basic principals of sportsmanship with the support of the players and parents.
"We wanted to coach the team with three basic principals and not focus on winning at all costs," said Gillen, who is an associate on staff with the Ridgeway Alliance Church in White Plains. "There were three things we stressed; play our best, play as a team and most of all have fun. We didn't have a group of star players, but the coaches and parents really supported the team."
The Sand Gnats showed their mettle by coming back from a 2-0 deficit to earn the victory. Gillen, who admitted making a coaching mistake in the first inning, said his team responded with class in a tension-filled game. He said he used several pitchers instead of one ace -- Zack Blot -- so his pitchers would all contribute.
"I sent a runner home with no outs in the first inning and [he] was thrown out at the plate," Gillen said. "I told the kids I made a mistake and they did what I knew they would do. They picked me up and overcame it. And the parents were there to support me. The team really came through."
Caleb Gillen had a standout performance as catcher, handling the pitchers and throwing out a runner in a big spot, Christos Hatzilouloudes and Otis Allen made saving catches in the outfield and Richie Daronco, Rafael Silverman, Adam Malev and Jordan McKee played outstanding defense on the infield.
"We stressed teamwork and supporting each other and the final victory was that kind of game," Gillen said. "The players on both tams know each other well and the sportsmanship was so impressive. This team can be proud that they played the right way and worked hard to be champions."
Jake Schoengold and Avery were also members of the Gnats championship team.
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