By MICHAEL LETENDRE
SOUTH WINDSOR – When the rain and thunderstorms finally cleared from Rotary Field in South Windsor on Thursday, Aug. 11, the defending champions of the Connecticut Twilight League, the Bristol Knights, took the field for the first time in postseason play
But Bristol, the top overall seed, was sternly challenged by the Brickhouse Indians to begin the double elimination tournament.
And the Indians broke through in a big way, advancing to the final week of the postseason, with a resounding 8-0 thumping over the Knights.
The Knights (20-5-1 overall) were shutout out for only the second time this season.
It was also Brickhouse’s second win of the campaign against the squad from Bristol.
Earlier in the season, it was Brickhouse, managed by Chris Barsa, that broke the Knights’ 14-game winning streak back on July 6 by a 2-1 score.
In this one, Brickhouse’s Devin Over – fresh off his senior season from the UConn baseball squad, – looked completely healed from his Tommy John surgery and the pitcher seemingly escaped every jam he got himself into.
He had his cutter and slider going early and nabbed three K’s in the third inning alone.
Overall, Over tallied 10 K’s ,walked two, and threw 107 pitches in the winning affair.
Bristol stranded 10 runners in the game and the squad simply never generated the big hit.
“We put really good swings on (Over) in the first two or three innings of the game,” said Bristol coach Brian LaRochelle. “And even later in the game, we’d have a base-runner or two here and there. We worked the count deep. We made him throw a lot of pitches.”
Bristol nabbed five hits in the fray as Steve Clout, Eddie Dickman, Julio Ortiz, Earl Oakes and Kyle Lentini all got into the offensive flow.
Defensively, Brickhouse was able to hang a loss on star Bristol pitcher Chris McGrath (4.2 IP, nine hits, 2walks, K) while Nick Dzioba and Lentini also saw time on the mound for the Knights.
Nick Barone led Brickhouse with a 3-of-3 performance that included a triple, two stolen bases and two runs scored.
Brian Pinney added two sacrifice flies, Nick Hudyma (3-of-4, stolen base, two runs) also played well while Scott Murphy (2-of-3, RBI, walk) help the winners in its 10-hit onslaught
After the Indians went 1-2-3 over the first inning, Bristol went right to work.
With one out, Clout slammed a single down the line in left but as he strayed too far from first base off the hit, the runner was quickly picked off while Dickman followed up with a base hit to center.
From there, Julio Ortiz-Rivera got on base via fielder’s choice but Marco Ross grounded out to first in an extremely close play as two hits and three base runners did not produce a run for the Knights through a busy first frame of action.
But Brickhouse put something together early in the second as Barone just snuck out an infield hit, bouncing off McGrath’s glove on the mound, that slowly rolled to shortstop and when Scott Murphy slapped a one-hopper to left, there were two men on.
A double-steal put the two in scoring position and a wild pitch plated Barone as the Indians were on top, 1-0.
And then Murphy drilled a single between the first and second for an RBI tally and quickly, it was a 2-0 contest.
Cam Mamigonian and Mike Cookson racked up back-to-back singles to load things up but Marcus McLaughlin grounded into a 6-2 fielder’s choice as the force at home got the runner.
With one out, Will Ramos drew a full-count base-on-balls to score a run and a sacrifice fly to left by Pinney scored Cookson as the Indians ramped up a 4-0 push to end the half-inning.
“You know it opened up with a play where there was a come-backer that hit off [McGrath’s] glove [and] it was kind of an in-between ball for our shortstop,” said LaRochelle. “We fielded the ball uncharacteristically poorly today and most games, we have a bit of a cushion where if we give up a couple runs early, we can still swing the bats so we can’t [expect McGrath] to be perfect every day.”
In the bottom of the frame, LaRochelle reached second when his fly to center was bobbled but that first run never came to pass and through two, it was still a 4-0 contest.
Barone started the third stanza off like the second with a base hit to lead things off.
But he got caught off guard at first and a Dickman throw from behind the plate was on the money and when Hudyma and Murphy flew out, Bristol had its second 1-2-3 inning of the game but trailed by four runs.
And in the Bristol third, the Knights ended up with two runners in scoring position when Lentini raced out an infield hit, Overs posted two strikeouts, and Ortiz squeezed out a grounder that was not going to get the speedster at first base.
Ortiz swiped second as one hit would have cut the four-run deficit in half.
But credit belonged to Overs as he fanned Ross and kept it a 4-0 contest.
“We did not get the big RBI base hit in the first couple innings,” said LaRochelle. “Once they were up four runs and their lead built from there, Over did a nice job bearing down, adding velocity in hitting spots with two strikes.”
Cookson earned a one-out walk in the top of the fourth but the runner was stranded at second while Bristol saw Oakes reach first base via an infield nubber.
However, that first run remained elusive for the Knights and after the completion of four innings, the Indians were proving as pesky as ever, leading by the four-run cushion.
In the fifth, the Indians added an insurance run to make it a 5-0 ball-game.
Barone tallied his third hit of the evening, a blazing triple to the gap in left, and from there, Hudyma singled down the line in right as the run pushed the Knights deficit to five.
Dzioba then came in for McGrath and while Murphy got on via a hit past first, Mamigonian flew out to center and the Knights were down to nine outs – having to get something brewing on the scoreboard to stop the bleeding.
Extra-hitter Scott Dickens managed to draw Bristol’s first walk against Over and pinch runner Dan Nunes eventually made it to third with two outs on the board.
But Dickman grounded out to third to end the fifth and, again, Bristol left the inning scoreless.
In the sixth, Pinney added another sacrifice fly, scoring Cookson, as the Indians surged in front by a 6-0 tilt.
Rochelle earned a two-out walk in the bottom of the stanza but when Justin Tokarz struck out, the squads entered the seventh and final frame with Brickhouse holding pat at 6-0.
Barone led the seventh off with a walk, ending Dzioba’s night as Lentini moved in from centerfield to take over the pitching duties for the Knights.
After a single and a walk loaded things up with no outs, Lentini struck out Mamigonian and Cookson while McLaughlin and Keith Eehevarria each reached base via error and the two additional runs made it an 8-0 edge for the Indians.
Bristol then made its way to the plate for the last time in the showdown.
Oakes opened things with a grounder to shortstop but when the ball was thrown a mile over first base, he chugged into second and the rally was on.
Brian Murray fell via strikes, as did Nunes, and when Lentini walked, two were on with two outs.
And Clout flew out to end the game as Brickhouse nabbed an 8-0 victory.
“We have to win tomorrow’s game and I really like our chances if we do,” said LaRochelle. “But tomorrow’s game is very important now.”
NOTES…It was very obvious Bristol players wanted to get this game in as the entire team – when the rain subsided just enough – grabbed shovels, rakes and speedy dry and worked on the rain-drenched infield. Credit belongs to all the Knights as the scheduled 6 p.m. game started just 43 minutes later.