By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – It was a big home opener for the Bristol Blues – a member of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League – in their debut contest against the North Shore Navigators from Muzzy Field in front of a loud and raucous crowd on Friday, June 5.
And the locals couldn’t have started the campaign any better as the Blues sank the Navigators 3-2.
It was a homecoming for Blues’ starting pitcher Kyle Dube, a former member of the Bristol American Legion baseball team and St. Paul standout.
After shaking off a little first inning rust, Dube retired 11 straight and gave up just two runs in five frames of work.
“The first inning was a little shaky,” said Dube. “[I] had a little adrenaline going, big crowd. After that, I kind of settled down, so I took a little off [and] started hitting spots.”
He struck out four and walked only one while yielding just four hits – three of which came over the first inning of play – and certainly made an impressive showing for the Blues.
While Dube left the game without factoring into the decision, reliever Ty Robinson earned the victory (3.2 IP, 3 hits, 6 K’s, 0 BB) but needed a little help to close the thing out.
Former Bristol Eastern chucker Mike Nocera finished it off, getting the final out of the game to earn the save, as the Blues zipped up a one run victory.
Austin Chauvin and Gerrad Rohan had two hits apiece for the Blues while Ryan Costello (two RBI) and Christian Whigham also generated hits in the winning effort.
Taso Stathopoulos (2.2 IP, 2 hits, 4 K’s, 1 BB) earned the loss in relief for the Navigators, now 0-2.
Chad Martin went 2-of-4 for the Navigators while Dube and company only allowed the visitors a combined seven hits.
Bristol took advantage of six errors by the Navigators and all three runs the Blues tallied were of the unearned variety.
“It was a good for us to win, obviously, but they did help us out with some mistakes defensively,” said Blues manager Lyons.
On the flip side, the game was all about defense as the Blues infield was sharp from start to finish.
That included heady play from Central Connecticut State University’s Ryan Costello at shortstop, Tyler Packanik at second, and Ryan Dromerhauser behind the plate.
Those opening night jitters were not apparent in the field as Bristol did not record an error.
“Our defense has been spectacular the first two nights,” said Lyons. “I can’t say enough about them.”
One of the only negatives for the Bristol squad was early in the contest when the Blues left seven runners stranded on base – 12 in all by the time things were said and done.
In all, Bristol generated just six hits in the game.
“I’m not totally pleased with our hitting with men in scoring position,” said Lyons. “We did not come through. We had several more opportunities to score but we did enough to win.”
North Shore’s Brandon Fischer started the top of the first with a one out single to right, advanced to second off a grounder and scored when Giovanni Dingcong dropped in a bloop hit into right to make it a 1-0 contest.
The Blues attempted to respond in the bottom of the first as leadoff hitter Griffin Garabedian reach base via an error but was caught in a pickle and was eventually tagged out at second.
Chauvin later drew a two-out walk but Rohan looked at strike three as the threat was squashed by the Navigators.
Dube settled down nicely in the second, retiring the side in order, and Bristol put three on with no outs to open the second.
Dromerhauser started the rally off with a walk, Costello singled up the middle and Davis Strong was hit-by-pitch to load things up.
But Tim Superko struck out the next two batters and Garabedian flew to left as the Navigators held on to its 1-0 push after two frames.
Dube continued to cruise – retiring seven straight after three innings of work – including zipping up a strikeout on Brandon Fischer.
The Blues once again juiced the bases, this time with one out in the third but eventually scored.
Chauvin reached via error and Rohan beat out an infield hit to shortstop and Dromerhauser drew a base-on-balls to load things up again.
This time, Costello drew a walk – forcing in Chauvin from third – as the game knotted at 1-1 at the completion of three frames.
There wasn’t much of a letdown by Dube in the fourth, adding two more strikeouts to his totals and soon after, Bristol surged ahead and snatched the lead.
Errors and tomfoolery did in the Navigators in the fourth as Christian Whigham dropped a hit into centerfield and when Stathopoulos came in to throw two errors plated the second Bristol run of the game.
Whigham stole second and off a botched pickoff attempt, the ball sailed into centerfield.
The runner took third and when the ball got by Sheldon Brogden in center, Whigham easily reached home plate as the Blues went ahead 2-1.
Dube’s streak of batters retired was ended at 11 when North Shore’s Michael Rizzitello drew a one out walk in the fifth.
With two outs, Matt Sheehan singled to center, plating Rizzitello, as the game was all tied up at 2-2 midway through the fifth.
Bristol went quietly in the fifth and Ty Robinson came in to relief the former St. Paul standout on the mound to open the sixth.
Whigham opened the bottom of the sixth with a walk but was cutdown attempting to steal second and no other Blues‘ player reached base in the frame as the game remained a stalemate.
Rizztello belted a base hit with two outs in the top of the seventh but was stranded at first base while Chauvin started a rally to open the Blues’ portion of the tilt.
Rohan beat out an infield to first and when the ball overthrown, Chauvin ended up at third.
With runners on the corners and reliever Daniel Metzdorf in the game, Costello smacked a ball to third base.
Chauvin broke for home and M.J. Brown attempted to cut him down at the plate but made it safely – giving Bristol a tidy 3-2 edge after seven completed frames.
Robinson was sensational in relief, posting a streak of five strikeouts in six at-bats into the middle of the eighth as the Blues one-run edge was holding.
“Ty came in and he was real dominant,” said Dube of Robinson. “He shut them down and it was good to see.”
Bristol couldn’t add to its lead in the eighth, leading to one more chance for North Shore to draw even.
Martin just beat out an infield hit to shortstop with one out in the ninth and when Tanner Bush dropped a single into left, the Navigators had two runners on.
With the game on the line and two outs on the scoreboard, the Blues turned to Nocera on the mound and when he induced a grounder to shortstop – turned into a fielder’s choice at second base – Bristol was triumphant as the home team wrapped up a 3-2 win and moved to 2-0 on the campaign.
“Our pitching staff did a great job,” Lyons said. “Dube was awesome and Ty Robinson, that’s the first time I’ve seen him and he was spectacular tonight. Part of me wanted to leave him in to see if he could get that last out.”
“But I was glad to get Nocera in there and get his feet wet.”
NOTES…With Nocera’s 0.1 innings of work, he earned his first save on the season in front of plenty of familiar faces in the crowd at Muzzy Field.
“It felt really good to come back and represent Bristol and it’s been a while since I pitched here,” said Nocera. “I pitched in Massachusetts the past couple years [collegiately] so it felt good to get back out for my home crowd, my family, friends, and represent Bristol.”
It was a tight spot for Nocera to come into, needing just to get one out to end the game in ninth, as the game was on the line and a victory hanging in the balance.
“I was nervous, I was shaking a little bit because I want to perform, get us out of a jam and win the game for us in our first home game here,” said Nocera. “There was a little nervousness.”
Nocera has played in big games at Muzzy Field over the years in a Bristol Eastern uniform but this time around, he was truly was the only man on the field – with the exception of Dube – that truly understood what being from Bristol and playing in a Blues’ uniform is truly all about as he closed out the game for the save.
“I represent a town that I’m from [and] I’m the only person on the team from Bristol and it felt good to represent,” said Nocera.
By MICHAEL LETENDRE