By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – When the Bristol Central and Bristol Eastern baseball squads tangled in a CCC South showdown from Muzzy Field in Bristol on Wednesday, May 6, one of the teams came in on one heck of a roll.
And when the Lancers put ace pitcher Nate Carney on the mound, the Rams were in a battle from the opening pitch.
Carney was brilliant from start to finish and when Eastern racked up three runs in the fifth inning, that’s all the ace chucker needed for support.
In the end, the Lancers picked up an impressive 3-0 win over the Rams, tallying its sixth straight game – eight out of nine overall – and are atop of the CCC South standings (6-1) at the midway point of the league battles.
Carney was on the money again, throwing a four-hit gem that included four strikeouts and yielded just one walk over his complete game effort.
He retired nine of the last 10 batters he faced and each and every time Central put a runner on base, Carney – and the Eastern defense – shut the door on the Rams’ offense as the squad was unable to post a run during the affair.
“He works fast, he keeps the fielders on their toes, throws strikes, he mixes speeds, he does everything you want in a pitcher,” said Eastern coach Mike Giovinazzo of Carney.
Central (4-8) had at least one runner on base over the first five innings of play but just couldn’t generate that big hit which would have put some pressure on Carney.
“I told the kids before the game ‘I just want you to play hard, I want you to play smart, be focused, do the best you can, and represent your school and pick each other up.’ And that’s what they did,” said Central coach Bunty Ray. “I don’t think we embarrassed ourselves out there. I thought we went out there and played a pretty good game against the first place team in the division.”
“And they had their ace on the mound who’s done very well, we had guys in scoring position and obviously, we didn’t get the big hit.”
Central pitcher Jaeden Rasmus picked up yet another tough-luck loss and certainly battled Carney tit-for-tat into the fifth frame when Eastern finally broke through.
Over his first four innings of work, Rasmus gave up just two hits – only one of which reached the outfield – and was cruising right along.
That was until the fifth frame when Jake Colello (2-for-3, double, two RBI) and Joe Lowery (1-for-3, double) put together back-to-back hits to smash the fray open.
“I thought Jaeden pitched great,” said Ray. “I mean, it’s the kind of thing that’s killed him late innings when he starts a game or in relief. He has that one crucial walk to start the inning. and then the infield hit and it was just at the worst time because here comes Colello, here comes the top and you’re like ‘oh man.’ You can’t pitch around them with guys in scoring position.”
“We made a few mistakes and you can’t make a mistake to a hitter like that. He’s a really good hitter.”
Overall, Rasmus gave up five hits, struck out two, and walked two in 4.1 innings of work.
Offensively for Central, Rasmus had a single and got on base twice; while Jerry LaPenta, Nick Sassu and Jake Hall all zipped up hits at the top of the Rams order.
“I liked the at-bats,” said Ray. “The improvement from day one to where we are now is starting to show. I thought we were a little worn down. We played a couple extra inning games the last couple days. But they came out with intensity level and did what they needed to do. The big hit eluded us.”
Carney did not allow a hit for extra bases and when the stalemate continued midway into the fifth inning, the Lancers were finally ready to pounce.
In that fateful bottom of the fifth, Tom Curtin walked to get onboard and when Nate Hickey sacrificed him over to first, Eastern had a runner in scoring position.
Slick Austin Dias (2-for-2) dropped a ball three-quarters of the way towards the second base bag that died as runners were on the corners with one out.
And then the hits of the game were put into play.
Colello slammed a double towards the left field wall as Curtin and Dias scored to put Eastern on top 2-0.
And then Lowery followed up with a two-base hit to the gap in right – plating Colello – as the Lancers held a huge 3-0 push.
“What you always hope for is the right guys come up in those situations and we certainly had the right guys up,” said Giovinazzo.
Eastern did make three errors in the game – two of those came off botched pick-up plays over the first two innings of play.
But other than that, Eastern took away more than a couple potential hits in the game and that kept the Rams off the scoreboard.
“That’s what turned our season around,” said Giovinazzo about the defense. “We weren’t making those plays early on. We’re making the plays now. Like I said, with a pitcher like Carney out there, you know balls are going to get put in play.”
“If you do your job on defense, you’re going to be in good shape.”
And the defense was tough behind Dias at shortstop.
Central had runners on first and third to open the game when a slow-roller came the way of Dias.
He made a quick toss to second to get a streaking Tony Nicoletti and in the top of the seventh, Dias made one heck of a throw – off a tough grounder by Ricky Lemke – to get the Central runner at first by an eyelash.
Central’s last hit came with one out in the fifth and once LaPenta was tagged out in a rundown between first and second off a pickoff attempt, the Rams never had another runner reach base as Carney and the defense ended the game with zest.
With the final ground-ball out, Eastern won for the ninth time this season, already surpassing last season’s total of eight total wins with eight more games to play.
“At this stage of the season, we’re just trying to get every win that we can,” said Giovinazzo. “We’re trying to improve our standing in the tournament.”
BC will continue to plug away at it and use the second half of the campaign to attempt to turn the season around.
By MICHAEL LETENDRE