By MICHAEL LETENDRE
SOUTH WINDSOR – A bit stung from an 8-0 drubbing from the hands of the Brickhouse Indians the previous evening, the Bristol Knights – the top seed in the Connecticut Twilight League playoffs this year – needed to defeat Elmer’s Place – to keep its postseason bid for its third consecutive league title alive.
But the Knights, nursing a 2-0 push midway through the game, couldn’t keep pace as errors, gaffes and down right bad luck foiled the locals as Bristol was eliminated from CTL play by a 7-2 final from Rotary Field in South Windsor as Elmer’s scored seven straight runs to close out the showdown.
Bristol ended the campaign at 20-6-1.
One play typically doesn’t define a game but a critical error in the field by Bristol in the top of the sixth inning gave Elmer’s the lead for good and put the No. 1 seed on its heel the rest of the way.
With two gone and runners on second and third, Elmer’s number nine batter, Kyle Bellizzi, lofted a high fly ball to center as Knights’ outfielder Kyle Lentini was moving to his right to secure the ball.
But as he got his glove on the ball, it quickly popped out as two runs scored off the miscue to give Elmer’s a two-run cushion.
“Kyle Lentini has made unbelievable plays for us for however many games it’s been, 26, 27 games. He makes that catch 90 times out of 100,” said Bristol coach Brian LaRochelle of the play. “He didn’t catch it that time and then, as baseball tends to work, the floodgates opened in the next inning.”
Three additional runs later, Elmer’s secured a five-run cushion and never looked back.
Elmer’s pitcher Alex Fretz went the distance as he allowed just seven hits, two runs, while striking out two to earn the victory.
Julio Ortiz-Rivera zipped out two hits while Ross slammed out an RBI double to pace the Knights’ offense.
Steve Clout, Ricky Barrett, Earl Oakes, and Phil Rothkugel all collected hits for Bristol.
Bristol pitcher Marco Ross (5-2) was sharp over his six innings of work, allowing just seven hits, two earned runs, three walks and fanned three in the losing effort.
A.J. Lowers led the offensive charge for Elmer’s with three hits, a walk, two runs scored and two RBI while veteran Ken Cook went 2-of-4 with a double and two RBI.
“Those guys are really good,” said LaRochelle. “They get two strikes and instead of giving up and taking soft stuff on the outside corners, they put the ball in play and when you put the ball in play, sometimes it finds some holes. That was the story tonight.”
“They’re a great team.”
In the top of the first, Nick Dinino generated a one-out hit to left and when he nabbed second base via a steal, the runner was in scoring position.
He moved to third on a Ken Cook groundout but when Ross fanned Alex Magoulas, the Knights came to the plate in the scoreless affair.
Bristol went down in order in the bottom of the stanza and the game was on.
And in the second, Elmer’s followed the same plan – getting a one-out hit from Magoulas and he later stole second.
A.J. Lowers followed with a base-on-balls and when Bryant Morander grounded out, runners were on second and third with two out.
But Bellizzi flew out to end the frame with no score in the game.
The Knights put up two outs quickly in the second before LaRochelle walked and then the rain came.
A little thunder and lightning delayed the game for about twelve minutes but when play resumed and Lentini looked at strike three, the 0-0 tilt remained intact.
LeFleur walked to start the third but Dinino hit into a 1-6-3 double play that effectively ended the frame.
And Bristol had nothing going through three as Fretz faced just one over the minimum as the teams entered the fourth in a dead heat.
Ross quickly went through Elmer’s batting order in the fourth as Bristol was still looking for its first hit.
And that tally came off the bat of Barrett with one gone in the inning as his grounder died in the shag carpet of the infield and Bristol had another runner on.
Then Ortiz-Rivera laid down a perfect bunt he was about to beat out when the ball was thrown far from first base as Barrett sprinted all the way home and off the gaffe, the Knights went up 1-0.
With Ortiz-Rivera on second, Ross absolutely drilled a one-hopper over the fence in left as the ground-rule double plated the lead runner and Bristol’s push reached 2-0 through four innings of work.
In the top of the fifth, Elmer’s struck for two runs as Lowers, Morander, and Bellizzi all tallied infield hits with no one out.
LaFleur struck out but Dinino zipped out an RBI groundout to cut the deficit in half.
And when a bloop single by Ken Cook landed in centerfield safely, Morander scored to make it a 2-2 contest.
Clout canned a single with two outs in the fifth but did not score and then the fateful top of the sixth saw Elmer’s take the lead in the showdown.
With one gone, Magoulas walked and Lowers singled on two start another rally.
Morander grounded out but advanced both runners into scoring position and Bellizzi lofted a fly to center that would have ended the half inning with the game still tied up at 2-2.
But Lentini dropped the ball as Magoulas and Lowers were off on the fly-ball and Elmer’s went on top by a 4-2 edge.
“They were swinging the bats well in the early innings,” said Rochelle of Elmer’s. “We were defending pretty well. They took advantage of the one opportunity they had and they put us away.”
In the bottom of the sixth, Ortiz-Rivera smashed a single down the line in right but with two outs, the speedster got caught stealing second as the inning was over with Elmer’s still ahead by two.
Dickman came in for Ross on the mound in the seventh, hit Dinino with a pitch, and the runner reached second on a wild pitch.
Then Ken Cook slammed a double to the gap in left and Dinino was looking to score.
The ball came in quickly and catcher Drew Gallagher clearly made the tag before Dinino slide into the plate but the runner was called safe to make it a 5-2 contest.
And when Magoulas walked, Lentini came in to relive Dickman on the hill.
Lentini got Sanchez to ground out, Magoulas hit into a fielder’s choice, but a single by Lowers notched another run and when the ball got by the outfielder in center, Jordan Sanchez scored and through six-in-a-half frames, Bristol trailed 7-2 and need to draw even to extend the event.
Oakes’s bloop single fell fair in right with two outs and Rothkugel smoked a base hit past the shortstop as Bristol had something brewing.
But Clout struck out to end the game as the Knights’ season came to an end in a 7-2 loss to upstart Elmer’s.
“When you have the best regular season, you really don’t envision facing what I perceived are the two best teams in tournament in rounds one and two,” said LaRochelle. “But we had a chance and we didn’t swing the bats the way we know that we can and unfortunately, it’s all she wrote for this year and we’re looking forward to next year already.”
Comments? Email mletendre@BristolObserver.com.