By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The battles waged between the Avon and Bristol American Legion baseball squads over the years have always been epic in nature.
And more often than not, the two teams are among the top of the standings, usually jockeying for first place in Zone 1.
The contest between the squads on Tuesday, June 27 played out to form from Muzzy Field in Bristol as both outfits combined for just two hits over the first nine innings of play in a superbly pitched affair.
But Post 2 didn’t make a miscue in the field as the home squad earned its second walk-off win in four games when Cory Fradette jammed an RBI single to left, downing Avon 1-0 in an 11 inning war.
“We just battled,” said Bristol coach Jerry LaPenta. “We made plays. We didn’t make any mistakes.”
The game turned into an instant classic between two outstanding pitchers, Bristol’s Zach Marquis (9.1 innings, two hits, seven K’s, one BB) and Avon’s Connor Harris.
And the only reason Marquis – and Harris for that matter – was forced out of the game with one out in the 10th inning was due to the pitch count rule, having thrown 106 pitches (105 is the limit – more on that in next week’s edition of the Bristol Observer).
But Marquis was sharp, keeping batters off-balanced from the start, and stayed the course over the no-decision.
“The key was a lot of first pitch strikes,” said LaPenta. “Zach was pounding the zone with his breaking ball for his first pitch strike which was huge.”
The victory was earned by Ben Mazzone in relief and his 1.2 innings of one-hit ball was a big-time showing against the best squad in the zone.
“I told Ben he did a hell of job coming in a pressure spot,” said LaPenta of Mazzone. “He did a great job.”
Harris (4-0) also got the job done for Post 201 (9.0 innings, two hits, five K’s) but earned a no-decision for his outstanding effort.
Avon’s Jon Olson earned the loss as Bristol broke a four-game losing streak against the squad, dating back to 2016.
A leadoff walk to Avon’s Sean Del Gallo was quickly snuffed out by the Bristol defense, thanks in part to a 4-6-3 double play, and Post 201 was quickly forced to take the field.
Bristol was retired in order during the bottom of the frame and quickly, the game was afoot.
Avon’s Adam Theriault laced a one-out single to left in the second to get on base for the visitors but two ground-outs later, it remained a scoreless affair.
Harris again notched three straight Bristol putouts and going into the third, the contest was a 0-0 affair.
And through three complete frames, Bristol was retired in order and Avon had just one hit as the 0-0 tilt continued into the fourth.
Marquis retired eight straight going into the bottom of the fourth stanza while Harris was just as hot, putting down 12 in a row – allowing just one batter (Jaeden Rasmus) to see a third ball.
In the fifth, Marquis nearly struck out the side as two K’s – and 11 consecutive retired batters – gave Post 2 its ups at the plate, attempting to break the 0-0 tie.
And Violette ended the hitless streak, putting a single into left field. When Lozier bunted the runner over, Post 2 had its first man in scoring position with only one out on the board in the fifth.
But two chances to advance the runner came and went and going into the sixth inning, the scoreless game remained in play.
Marquis was nearly untouchable as his retired streak reached 14 as both squads were still looking for that elusive first run of the ball game.
Again, Bristol was shut down in order in the sixth and entering the final frame of regulation play, the contest was for the taking.
Marquis was still rolling into the seventh tilt and by the middle of the inning, he had retired 17 straight as one Bristol run would win the thing.
But three ground ball outs later, the scored remained a hopeless 0-0 deadlock after seven completed frames and extra innings quickly commenced between the squads.
With one away in the top of the eighth, Avon’s Chris Jacobs earned a full-count walk, breaking Marquis’s retired streak at 18.
A passed ball advanced Jacobs to second but Brady Williamson looked at strike three and a long fly out, caught by Jalen Benoit in centerfield, put Post 2 back in the position of scoring one run to be able to end the game.
Lozier needed one pitch in the bottom of the frame to put a ball into center for a base hit; but when Benoit bunted, the ball was thrown to second and the lead runner was cut down off the sacrifice chance.
Benoit was caught stealing to end the frame as both teams went into the ninth stanza looking to put up a score.
Avon’s Joe Suske snuck a grounder past the third base bag to open the inning as Post 201 had something brewing.
A fielder’s choice caught the lead runner and Del Gallo was caught swiping a base to squash the Avon rally.
In the bottom of the ninth, Bristol’s Mike Lemke drew Harris’s first walk of the game with one out.
A wild pitch put the speedy Lemke at second and once he took third base via steal with two outs, Cory Fradette had a chance to net the game winning hit as Bristol got a runner on third for only the first time in the showdown.
Fradette ended up grounding out to second and just like that, the contest was headed to the 10th stanza.
The 105-pitch count limit then reared its ugly head, forcing the starting pitchers to vacate the mound.
Marquis retired the first batter he faced in the 10th before leaving the contest as Mazzone moved from third base to pitch.
Jeremy Zarwanski greeted the reliever with a base hit to right but off what looked like a passed ball, “Big” Chadd Richardson behind the plate made a perfect throw to second base to generate the second out.
Theriault then walked to get on base – as did Jacobs – to put two runners on for Avon.
But Theriault got caught off the bag trying to steal as it was still 0-0 to open the bottom of the tenth inning.
Olson then came into pitch for Post 201 and Lozier got on base for the second time as he drew a full count base-on-balls with two outs.
But Benoit flew out to end the inning as the contest went on into the eleventh and final frame.
In the top of the tilt, Mazzone put down the side in order and, again, Bristol was looking to ice the event away.
This time, all the pieces fell into place.
Noah Plantamuro splashed a single to right to open the Bristol portion of the half-inning as the lead runner was on.
And then Rasmus placed a perfect bunt towards the third base side of the mound and when the ball was thrown away, the sacrifice led to a runner at first and second as two were on with no one out.
Then Lemke looked like he was going to bunt during his entire at-bat but followed up with a full-count walk and suddenly, Bristol had the bases juiced with no one out.
“I think the other key thing was I kept the bunt on when Mike had two strikes,” said LaPenta. “That [pitcher] got nervous. You know I bunted with two strikes a ton of times and sometimes, guys get rattled and the kids have to make plays.”
With the infield in, Mazzone struck out but Fradette ended the event when he drilled the game winning single to left – plating Plantamuro – as Bristol beat rival Avon 1-0.
“Cory got a big hit,” said LaPenta. “He picked up Ben [Mazzone] striking out there. I thought about doing a safety squeeze [bunt] but I said I’m just going to let him hit. When the infield’s in, you’re average goes up about .300 points so it was just an awesome job by [Cory].”
It was a critical, and needed, win in Zone 1 play as Bristol knocked down Avon’s lead in the zone to 1.5 games.
“It’s huge,” said LaPenta of the win. “We lost the first game to them in the bottom of the seventh. We were ahead in that game 3-2 and Avon scored the tying run on a passed ball in the sixth [inning]. If we lost that game today after great performances like that, it would have been a very hard pill to swallow plus it would have been hard to catch them [in the zone 1 standings].”
“I told the kids if we win every two-out-of-three series, we’ll win the zone. Right now, we’re 1-1 with Avon, we play them in the second to the last game of the year and you know it’s going to be a huge game.”