By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Getting ready for a long, playoff run, the Bristol Knights of the Manchester Twilight League had a little tune up against Elmer’s Place in a possible tournament preview.
But the game started like all the other ones during this past week.
You know the pattern: fall down early, make a comeback, and, hopefully, hold on in the end.
In two of those previous games that formula failed miserably.
This time around, however, the Knights made the effort count.
Trailing 5-0, Bristol scored six unanswered runs as the Knights ended the season on a high note and pasted Elmer’s 6-5 in eight innings from Bristol Eastern High School on Friday, August 3.
“One thing I can say about our team all year is that despite how much we’ve beaten ourselves, we never give up and we come back time and time again,” said Bristol coach Paul Franceschi. “That’s what makes the season more frustrating is those little mistakes.”
Bristol had opportunities to put the game away early offensively but a key double-play ball along with some plain old bad luck, the home team couldn’t get on the board over the first five frames of the contest.
But from the sixth inning on, it was all Bristol offensively as the visiting squad made a couple critical gaffes that gave the Knights second chances.
The Knights scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth to cut the deficit to 5-4 and one stanza later, Bristol added one additional run to force an extra frame.
And then in the bottom of the eighth, the Knights netted one final run to take the ultimate lead in the game and finished its regular season with a bit of a flourish.
Rick Blais started off the game on the mound for Bristol and certainly showed some grit, retiring 11 of the first 12 batters he faced and 10 in a row at one point.
But in the top of the fourth stanza, with Bristol just one strike away from ending the inning, Elmer’s struck for five big runs.
Blais walked Dan Krot, Mike Cook, and Justin Swiderski to load things up, all with two outs.
Ryan Carroll followed up with a single to left field to drive in two runs.
The ball got away from the fielder and a third runner scored to make it a 3-0 contest in Elmer’s favor.
Two additional batters hit singles as two more runners scored.
In all, seven batters reached base with two outs and a scoreless game became a 5-0 tilt halfway through the fourth.
But from that point, Knights’ relievers Lucas Nickerson and Trevor Breton retired 14 of the final 15 Elmer batters they faced as the visitors offensive capabilities were quickly neutralized.
Then in the sixth, Bristol’s bats sprang to life.
Breton (3-for-4, 2 runs, RBI) started the rally off with a single and Eddie Dickman (3-for-3, 2 stolen bases) shipped a single to right to put two on.
Rex Cone followed up with a blazing double down the right field line as Breton scored to make it a 5-1 contest.
Ricky Barrett added a short base hit to shallow centerfield as Dickman scored and Bristol made it a 5-2 affair.
Franceschi walked to load the bases as the go-ahead run was at the plate with no outs in the inning.
Even as Ryan Polumbo hit into a 1-2-3 double play, Bristol still had life with two outs gone in the stanza.
Scott Dickens kept the rally alive with a base-on-balls and it was all up to Jay Gilbert.
Gilbert hung tough and faced a full count when he dropped in the hit of the game.
Off a full count, Gilbert drilled a short shot to centerfield and fielder, Nick Dinino, had no play on it as two runs scored to cut the deficit to 5-4 after sixth innings.
“He’s been starting to hit the ball again hard,” said Franceschi of Gilbert. “Hopefully, he can carry that into the playoffs. He had a big at-bat there to get us started in the sixth inning with two outs. We’re lucky to have him on our team.”
After a quiet inning by Elmer’s, Bristol had one last chance to tie it in the bottom of the seventh.
In the seventh, Breton walked on as the tying run and Dickman laid down a sacrifice bunt right to relief pitcher Nick Dinino.
Dinino twirled around and threw a sloppy ball to the first basemen and it was bobbled and rolled towards the first base fence.
Breton headed for third and the Knights were in business.
From there, Dickman stole second and Bristol had runners on second and third with no one out.
With one away, Breton crossed the plate off a passed ball and the teams were tied at 5-5 and forced into another inning of play.
Breton had come in to pitch the seventh and eighth and struck out five of the six batters he faced.
“Trevor Breton came up big for us,” said Franceschi. “It was his first game with us. He plays in a couple different leagues but he couldn’t have picked a better time to play with us.”
Then, Bristol surged ahead for good.
With two outs gone in the eighth, Gilbert smashed a shot to shortstop that was fumbled to put a runner on.
Justin Kilker walked to put another runner on as Breton took one final at-bat.
Off a 3-1 count, Breton drilled a single to right field as Gilbert scored the winning run as Bristol – in a playoff preview – scored a big 6-5 win from Bristol.
“Everyone played hard and we got out and played great defense today except for that that one mistake in left field (during the fourth inning),” said Franceschi. “It’s exciting. That’s the way you want to roll into the playoffs.”