By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – When the Bristol Central and Bristol Eastern baseball teams clashed at Muzzy Field on Friday, May 3, one very good pitcher and one out of this world chucker put it all on full display in front of a packed house in Bristol.
And neither Eastern’s Mike Nocera nor Central’s Matt Blandino disappointed on the mound.
But the Rams did just enough to snare the victory.
In the end, Blandino’s one-hit performance stood as Central nipped Eastern 3-0 in a CCC South tilt.
The Rams, the state’s number one ranked squad, moved to a perfect 12-0 on the season while the Lancers fell to 6-7.
And while Blandino (one hit, 11 Ks) faced the minimum in terms of total batters, Nocera was pretty slick himself as he allowed just three runs on four hits while throwing strikes and walking only one in a complete game effort.
Nocera struck seven and only yielded the one run through five tough frames.
“He was pretty good,” said Central coach Bunty Ray of Nocera. “He came out (and) he established the outer-half of the plate. He threw a lot of pitches. He had a nice cut-fastball going with a nice breaking ball. He used his fastball effectively.”
But the Rams got on the board in the top of the first as Blandino, who had a double and scored two runs in the fray, crossed the plate off an Eastern double-play as Central quickly established a 1-0 push.
“You come out and score with Matt pitching, especially in a game like this, it kind of takes the edge off,” said Ray. “This is an emotional game, it always is, and when you’re playing from ahead, it kind of changes the dynamic of everything.”
The one run proved to be all Central needed as the pressure was thrust upon the Eastern offense to make something happen in the field.
“We were facing a great pitcher,” said Eastern coach Mike Giovinazzo. “We’d tried to scratch and claw, drop a bunt here, poke one there but (Blandino) just doesn’t let you.”
Eastern got a runner on in the second as Eric Therrien just beat out an infield hit with one out in the stanza as second basemen Joey DeFillippi made a great throw and almost scooped up a brilliant assist.
But one double-play ball later, Central was out of the frame, still in charge at 1-0 and Blandino retired the final 16 batters he faced.
“He always gets stronger as the game goes on because he’s such a conditioned pitcher,” said Ray of Blandino. “And once you give him a lead, he knows what to do with it. He is a veteran pitcher, he has flawless mechanics and he’s able to use whatever we want in terms of pitches. He throws four pitches. We’re not using four pitches every night but whatever works that day against whomever our opponent is is a nice weapon to have.”
Nocera was cruising as well as he retired seven straight towards the middle of the game, got himself out of a jam in the fourth and off three quick ground-ball outs in the fifth, Eastern was still just trailing 1-0.
“Mike pitched well enough to win,” said Giovinazzo of Nocera. “We didn’t give him very much defensive support and obviously we didn’t give him any offense. Put that together and you’re going to get beat.”
Defense was Central’s calling card on the day as the squad did not commit an error in the field and the team simply made clean, crisp throws to first for timely outs that became base-runner stoppers.
“When we came out in the pre-game, that’s what we talked about,” said Ray about the defense. “When Matt pitches, you’re not going to have to make a ton of plays but you better be ready to make them. I thought our focus on defense was outstanding today.”
In the sixth, the Rams added a tally on the board as Vin Nocera singled, went to second via a wild pitch, advanced on a ground-ball out to third, and scored off an RBI fielder’s choice by Kyle Pileski as the run made it a 2-0 game in Central’s favor.
In the seventh and final frame, Blandino was hit in the helmet by a Nocera offering, reached second off an error, and eventually advanced to third.
He scored off a wild pitch to make it a 3-0 contest with Eastern down to its final three outs and still looking for a run.
“There were some plays if we’d made them, it’d be a much closer game (and) we might have had a shot,” said Giovinazzo. “We gave them a couple of runs and you can’t give Matt Blandino any. That three (runs) looks like 30 up there when he’s pitching. You’ve got to keep them at one (run) so you can play them for one.”
“Once they get that second and third run, you’re really climbing up hill.”
But the Lancers – at the top of its order in the seventh and final inning – went down 1-2-3 as Central held on to win 3-0.
“We haven’t put a whole game together, maybe once this year against Middletown,” said Ray. “I thought today was a pretty complete game for us. We scrapped against a good pitcher, our defense was outstanding and obviously Matt, the third piece of the puzzle, gave us a great pitching performance.”
NOTES…Jake Martel and Justen Jakubiak each tallied hits in the winning effort while Martel also drew a walk in the contest…Therrien’s hit broke up Blandino’s chance at a perfect game but he only allowed one hit get out of the infield…Blandino struck out five straight – including the entire side in the sixth – and had a total of 11 Ks in the game.