By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Another competitive battle between the Bristol Central and Bristol Eastern baseball squads ensued on Tuesday, May 23 from Muzzy Field in Bristol but this time around, the game was a scoreless stalemate going into the sixth inning of play.
While the Rams just couldn’t pick up that critical big hit, the Lancers did and with two on in the top of the sixth, Mike Massarelli slammed a two-run double into leftfield as Eastern wrangled up a 2-0 victory – moving to 10-9 on the campaign.
“Mass has been one of our most consistent hitters all year,” said Eastern coach Mike Giovinazzo. “[I] made a little shuffle in the line-up today and moved him up a little bit.”
“It paid off.”
But Central (9-10) threatened several times over game play, putting runners on base in each frame except the first and fifth.
The Rams also played exceptional defense throughout the showdown with centerfielder Dathan Hickey throwing an Eastern runner out at home to keep the game scoreless while tracking down several other balls to give his squad a chance.
But in the sixth, Central missed out on turning a critical double play and Kenny Knox, who pitched extremely well for the Rams, let a pitch hang just enough for Massarelli to drill it to the outfield for the game winning RBI.
“One inning has been sort of plaguing us because of our lack of offense,” said Central coach Bunty Ray. “I can’t point to every defensive play, little miscues that happen. I’ve really got to hang on to the good things that we’ve done out there when Dathan throws that guy out. We made a lot of plays with two outs.”
“[Eastern] had some guys in scoring position, Kenny got himself in trouble with a couple walks [and] Eastern swung the bat.”
Knox was night-and-day compared to his first showing against Eastern.
He did not allow a hit over the first three innings while giving up just five in the game overall.
Knox struck out four but hit Eastern’s Jake Violette with a pitch, setting up the fateful sixth inning scoring drive.
Central’s Kevin White allowed just one hit, a walk, and two strikeouts in 1.2 innings in relief.
“He played great,” said Ray of Knox. “The way he was going, I wanted to go to White but I wanted to let my ace get out there and see if he could wiggle out of [trouble] one more time. And credit Massarelli, he stepped on a pitch, got what he needed, and that’s a big hit in a big game.”
This was a bounce-back game defensively for Eastern as the squad, which made multiple gaffes over its last two games, played a near perfect contest in the field to complement their warrior on the mound, Zach Marquis.
Marquis (5-1, 1.02 ERA) went the distance and certainly got better as the game went on.
He struck out four of the final five batters he faced, did not allow a free pass and gave up just six hits overall in securing the shutout.
“He didn’t quite have the dominant stuff he had the first time but he got himself out of some tough jams and his defense [behind him] really helped him especially [Cory] Fradette at shortstop and [Shawn] Savior at second,” said Giovinazzo.
“They were outstanding”
Mac Goulet (double) earned a two-out walk to open the game and Violette skyed a ball to right-centerfield but Hickey ran it down as Central came away from the top of the first without any damage.
Marquis needed only six pitches in the bottom of the frame to handle Central and through one, the contest was a scoreless stalemate.
Then in the top of the second, Marquis walked to put one onboard with one gone in the frame.
Fradette then grounded to short, Marquis was out at second and Central was looking for the double play.
However, the throw to first got away and Fradette was off to second, getting into scoring position.
But after one final strikeout by Knox, Central left the field with the shutout still intact.
In the top of the third with one out, Alex DiLoreto and Mike Lemke pasted together back-to-back singles to left but Jake Santiago hit into a 4-3 double play and quickly, the game went into the third inning without a tally notched on the board.
“It’s been all year. We can’t get the big hit,” said Ray. “We were too defensive. When you’ve got young kids trying not to make mistakes rather than sitting on their backside and driving the ball…that’s what I was trying to preach to them.”
“Hopefully, down the road, they learn from this and it makes them a better player as opposed to going backwards. And I think it will.”
But Central turned the tables and after a flyout by Lozier with a 6-3 double-play, the 0-0 tilt continued into the bottom portion of the inning.
Savoir robbed Eric Gaudreau of a hit with a slick stop to open Central’s at-bats in the third but Jeremy Ganavage smoked a ball to right for a single.
One out later, Eastern was back at the plate and looking to get its first hit of the game.
With two gone in the fourth, Massarelli smacked a one-hopper to left for that first hit of the contest.
Marquis then followed with a hit as well, putting two on as John McPhee came into pinch-run for Massarelli.
Fradette then came through with a flare to center and McPhee was charging home.
But it was a hard-hit ball and Hickey put a right-on-the-money throw to Ganavage in front of the plate and his tag nabbed McPhee and the game remained tied at zero.
DiLoreto staged a two-out rally in the bottom of the fourth with a chopper to right, moved to second on a passed ball but Lemke was just called out on a 5-3 grounder and going into the fifth, Eastern and Central didn’t have a score.
“Zach makes you a better defensive team,” said Giovinazzo. “He works fast, he throws strikes, he keeps you on your toes. In some of our other games, our pitchers have been all over the place and our fielders have been back on their heels but they have to learn a lesson from a pitcher like [Marquis].”
“He’s the one that keeps them on their toes and keeps them hopping.”
Both squads went 1-2-3 in the fifth and going into the sixth, Eastern was looking to take the initial lead of the encounter.
Gary Gagnier took the first pitch of the sixth and zipped it down the third-base line for a base hit.
Goulet then hit a grounder to Noah Plantamuro at short as the Rams got the lead runner at second but could not turn the double play.
A wild pitch advanced Goulet to second and when Violette was plunked by the ball, there were two on with just one out.
Another wild pitch advanced the runners, both into scoring position, and Massarelli was about to pick up the hit of the game.
He senior took a 3-2 ball deep to left field, plating both Goulet and Violette, as the Lancers scooped up a 2-0 lead – ending Knox’s outstanding night on the mound.
“If you’re not scoring, you’ve got to make every play,” said Ray. “We had one little miscue and, once again, it cost us. We still got the lead runner so when you uncork a couple wild pitches from there [Eastern got the big hit].”
White moved from third base to pitch, spelling Knox on the mound.
With two gone, Ray elected to intentionally walk Fradette and eventually got out of the jam as Central trailed 2-0 going into the bottom of the inning.
White eked out base hit just passed McPhee at third base with one gone in the sixth frame.
However, Eastern escaped the jam when Plantamuro was fanned by Marquis – as was Jaylen Dias – and going into the seventh, the Lancers’ two-run edge was holding.
Eastern’s Matt Thornton earned a one-out walk in the seventh and with two gone, Goulet dropped a two-base hit to left and, once again, two runners were in scorn position.
But Violette grounded out to short and with three outs left in the game, Central had to respond with two runs in the bottom of the seventh.
The Rams refused to go quietly and with one out, Lemke out-ran a ground ball to third and the tying run was at the plate.
Marquis bounced back with a strikeout out of Santiago and when Gaudreau’s ground ball hit Lemke heading for second, he was called out, the game was over and Eastern won it by two runs, 2-0.
“Let me tell you something, in high school baseball, all you have to do is make the routine plays,” said Giovinazzo. “You don’t have to make the great plays and I thought we made all the routine plays tonight with a couple of excellent ones sprinkled in.”
“That’s what you need to do.”
And Ray credited Marquis in yet another big showing, and shutout, over the Rams.
“Marquis made big pitches,” said Ray. “Sometimes you tip your cap to him. He got big strikeouts [with] guys in scoring position a couple times and that’s the part the I was more upset about [not] putting some pressure on them. And then once again, it’s a break here, a break there. The way we ended the game was kind of the way it went for us.”
NOTES…It was senior night at the game as Central’s Jeremy Ganavage, Brock Clark, Kevin White, Mike Lemke, Josh Bodley, Eric Gaudreau, and Kenny Knox were honored before the game along with Eastern’s Shawn Savoir, Ethan Pearson, Anthony Lozier, Matt Thornton, Ethan O’Day, Mike Massarelli, and captains Jake Violette, Gary Gagnier, and Zach Marquis.