By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The Bristol American Legion baseball Senior squad, in its first state tournament challenge of 2016, went to the pitching formula the Bristol Central squad used a couple times over the years – let the starting pitcher nearly go the distance and then let Brad Burney mop up.
And this time around, Noah Cruz started the game, throwing a one-run, six-hitter gem and then letting Burney close the door as Post 2 defeated New Britain 3-1 from Muzzy Field in Bristol on Saturday, July 16.
Bristol, rated No. 8 in the Northern Division, was able to dispose of the fifth place finisher of Zone 7 (13-12) as Post 2 rode up a 1-0 edge after one frame and then padded that lead with two critical runs in the sixth to just about put things away.
But the visitors put the go ahead run at the plate with one out remaining in the game until Burney finished the job.
“When we were up 1-0, I kept telling them we’ve got to get a couple [more runs] guys, we need a couple insurance runs because everybody here has a decent team at this point.” said Bristol coach Jerry LaPenta. “You knew with two outs and nobody on, New Britain still had a rally.”
“It’s never easy.”
Ben Mazzone zipped up two hits and scored a run while Zach Marquis, “Big” Chadd Richardson, Jaeden Rasmus, Cory Fradette, and Ricky Lemke all smashed out hits for the home team.
Cruz just missed throwing a complete game by one out as he struck out three and walked only one to pick up his first postseason victory in an American Legion baseball uniform.
“Noah pitched a great game,” said LaPenta. “I think he maybe gave up one walk. That’s key with a team like that because [New Britain’s] fast, they like to run, they like to bunt so to keep them off the bases without free passes, that was huge for us.”
Tyler Gibbs led New Britain with two hits and was the only player from the squad to tally a multi-hit game.
In fact, Gibbs slapped out a two-out single in the top of the first inning but Cruz induced a ground-ball out by Justin Lawson to get out of the jam as Bristol came up to bat.
Mazzone dropped in a single and then stole second to get into scoring position.
Richardson later blasted a single to right – plating Mazzone – as Bristol nabbed a 1-0 push early on in things.
New Britain went down in order in the second frame while Ricky Lemke flipped out a base hit to put something on base for Post 2 but nothing came of it.
Cruz struck out two in the third frame and then Mazzone generated a second straight hit with another flare to left to get onboard, as did Marquis, to put two on with no outs.
A wild pitch advanced the duo but with runners on second and third with no outs, Bristol could not score a run as New Britain got out of a tricky spot and the game entered the fourth frame with Post 2 still ahead by a single run.
“We have second and third with no outs in the third,” said LaPenta. “We’ve got to do a better job there, put the ball in play, and two strikeouts [later], we bailed them out. We could have given ourselves some breathing room there.”
Gibbs scooped up his second hit of the game to open the fourth tilt and when Robinson walked with two outs, New Britain had something brewing.
But Dziarakoski looked at strike three to end its portion of the frame and Bristol’s 1-0 edge was still holding strong.
Andrew Owsianko led off its portion of the fourth with a base hit to center but he ended trying to steal a base, got into a pickle and was eventually tagged out by Pelligrini to end the Bristol rally.
In the fifth, New Britain’s Will Homar got on via single, stole second but was tagged out at third on a grounder from Mike Ortiz as the lead runner was erased.
But Cruz hit Tyree Burns with the ball and New Britain had runners on first and second.
And when Pelligrini ended things with a groundout, Post 2 was still in charge buy a solitary run.
Bristol went down in order in the bottom of the fifth and in the top of the sixth, Fradette made a great grab and throw to rob Justin Lawson of a hit to keep the visitors off the scoreboard.
In the bottom of the sixth, Bristol tallied those all important insurance runs.
Rasmus crafted a single to left in Bristol’s sixth and from there, Fradette smashed a huge RBI triple to deep centerfield as the run made it a 2-0 contest.
And from there, Owsianko dropped a fly ball to left for an out and off the catch, Fradette tagged home plate as Post 2 went ahead by three runs.
“Cory got a game ball for getting that big hit there, the insurance runs were huge,” said LaPenta. “Owsianko did a great job picking the run there with less than two outs.”
To end the contest, New Britain refused to go away quietly.
A two-out single by Plourde and a hit to center by Mike Ortiz put two on.
And then Burns placed a grounder that took a nasty hop past Fradette at shortstop as Plourde scored to cut the deficit to 3-1.
Quickly, the go-ahead run was at the plate and Burney was on to close the event out.
The first pitch got by the catcher and both runners moved into scoring position.
But Pellegrini grounded out to second to end the contest as Burney picked up the one-out save to propel Bristol to a 3-1 win.
With the victory, Post 2 survived and advancing to the next round of the state tournament against No. 9 Glastonbury from Muzzy Field.
“That’s what it is,” said LaPenta about surviving and advancing. “Even though Bradley is pitching tomorrow, I told him ‘the kid on deck is a lefty.’ I said ‘If Noah doesn’t get this guy, you’re going in’ because I’m not facing a lefty-on-lefty. Burney came in, did a good job, and got the big out.”
“I’m happy. Now, we’ll catch our breath, come back at it tomorrow and I guess we play the winner of Glastonbury and Wolcott. It’s kind of ironic because last year, we played Glastonbury in the first round and then we played Wolcott. It’s kind of staying with us so we’ll see.”