By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – In an attempt to keep away from the upcoming single elimination Manchester Twilight League tournament bracket, the Bristol Knights had to find some way of defeating a very tough squad from Moodus on Monday night, July 28.
And while the first year squad battled throughout the contest, the Nationals had no way of solving Bristol chucker Chris McGrath.
McGrath went the distance for the Knights, allowing just six hits while punching out nine batters, as Bristol defeated Moodus 3-1 in the second game of a doubleheader from Muzzy Field in Bristol.
The win moved the Knights to 12-13 overall with one contest to play on Friday, Aug. 1 against Chicago Sam Orioles, a squad with the worst ledger in the league.
But in order to get a shot at a .500 record, the Knights had to defeat the Nationals (11-13) and that effort was spearheaded by McGrath in what turned into a very good pitcher’s duel.
McGrath did not allow a walk in the fray and when Moodus threatened, the Bristol pitcher was up to the challenge.
“It’s (only been) his third or fourth game pitching for us,” said Bristol coach Brian LaRochelle about McGrath. “He’s a tough lefty.”
And then there was an outstanding all-around effort by long time Knights’ veteran Eddie Dickman who did a little of everything for Bristol.
The former Bristol Eastern standout smashed three balls to the outfield, two going for doubles, while also collecting an RBI and scored a run.
His second hit of the game proved to be the winning tally as he produced the second run of the game to propel Bristol to a 2-0 push after three innings of play.
He also threw a runner out at third base and almost ended the game with another brilliant toss to third from his catcher position.
“Eddie’s a dynamite hitter,” said LaRochelle of Dickman. “We’re really lucky to have him on our team.”
Also for Bristol, coach Brian LaRochelle zipped out a double as did catcher Sean Shanley.
Earl Oakes and Justin Tokarz each stroked out a single while Shawn Ferguson eked out an infield hit for Bristol.
Ricky Barrett also contributed in the winning effort as his sacrifice fly in the first inning of play got Bristol on the scoreboard.
Moodus pitcher Adam Michaud led the offense by going 2-for-3 at the plate while throwing an effective game for the visitors as well.
He walked two and struck out one but Michaud did just enough to give his squad a real shot at it.
“They’re scrappy,” said LaRochelle of Moodus. “I was looking at the stats file…the kid that pitched against us today [Michaud] has tossed something like 65 or 70 innings so far this year. He goes out and does a good job.”
But that win simply never materialized for the Nationals.
Joel Hara scored the lone run for the visiting faction.
Moodus made some noise in the top of the first frame but McGrath worked his way out of a second and third bases jam, not allowing either runner to score and kept the game scoreless.
Ryan Massie started the stanza with an infield hit while Austin Shumbo hit into a fielder’s choice but with one out, the Nationals still had a runner on.
Michaud singled up the middle to put two on while Shumbo stole third base, Michaud took second via a wild pitch.
With two runners in scoring position, Moodus couldn’t seal the deal and cash in a run.
McGrath struck out Spencer Daly while Bill Bode flew out to center as Bristol held the fort.
In each and every instance, McGarth made every big pitch count for Bristol in a big – and needed – victory.
“I picked him up to join our team (from another league),” said LaRochelle. “We had an injury to our ace starting pitcher halfway through the year. He’s really paid dividends. He’s always throws right around the zone. He throws hard. He’s a good pitcher.”
The Nationals wouldn’t threat again until the sixth inning and that gave the Knights plenty of time to go on the offensive and goggle up a lead.
And that helped fuel a first inning attack by the Knights.
Dickman started things off by smoking a double to center and moved to third off a ground-out by LaRochelle.
From there, Barrett hit his sacrifice – scoring Dickman – as Bristol went up by a 1-0 tally.
After going down in order in the second inning, the Knights stabbed the Nationals for another run in the third.
With one out, Tokarz singled to left and eventually ended up on second base with two gone in the frame.
It was the exact opening Dickman was looking for as he sent another double to center – scoring Tokarz – as Bristol nabbed an important 2-0 edge in the game.
But it was tough going from there as Moodus dug in and gave Bristol some real fits at the plate.
“I always tell (General Manager) Scott (Dickens) and the guys on our team, the young teams tend to have good pitching and they tend to make the plays defensively,” said LaRochelle of Moodus. “That’s what this team did. They didn’t give us any opportunities. We had to earn the runs that we scored.”
In the fifth, the Knights threatened again as a base hit by Oakes and a walk to Phil Daria put runners on first and second with two outs.
But Dickman flew out to center as the Panthers were hanging in, just down 2-0.
In the top of the sixth, the Nationals finally made its move to score a run and get into the swing of things.
Hara started the stanza out with a single to right as a runner was quickly onboard.
And with one out, Yaworsky slammed an RBI double to center, scoring Hara, as the deficit was chopped 2-1 with the go-ahead run at the plate.
But McGrath came up with a big strike out and Dickman threw out Yaworsky trying to take third base to end the inning as Bristol still held the lead by a run.
And just as quick as Moodus scored its run, Bristol returned the favor in kind.
LaRochelle jammed a two-base hit to center and the rally was on.
Shanley drew a two-out walk and with runners on first and third, Ferguson dinged out a huge infield hit.
Ferguson poked the ball to third base but a throw could not be made, with LaRochelle crossing the plate, as Bristol regained its two-run advantage at 3-1 with just one inning left to play.
But in the top of the seventh, Evan Comer reached base off an error and the tying run was once again in the batters box for the visitors.
But McGrath quickly made it academic as he struck out two batters – getting the other ground out – as Bristol held on to win the important encounter by a 3-1 final.
NOTES…Bristol needed a little help getting into the double elimination fray of the upcoming Manchester Twilight League Tournament and defeating the Chicago Sam’s Orioles would have gone a long way in that endeavor.
“We have to win on Friday [against Chicago Sam] to have us not start in the elimination bracket,” said Dickens. “If we do win on Friday and a couple teams help us, I think we have a chance but it’s not in our own hands right now.”
“We have tiebreakers over a couple teams with similar records,” said LaRochelle. “A few things would have to go right for us but we’re cautiously optimistic that we might be able to play in the double elimination tournament.”
The Knights ended up beating Chicago last Friday and earned the sixth seed, staying out of the single elimination bracket.
By MICHAEL LETENDRE