By BRIAN JENNINGS
It took a four-game winning streak at the end of the regular season to catapult the Bristol Blues past the first round with a bye. But the locals were quickly ousted from the Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL) playoffs, dropping their first two games of a best-of-three series in the second round to the No. 5 Nashua Silver Knights.
The Blues were 4-3 against the Silver Knights during the regular season.
“Going into the postseason, the biggest thing for us was to throw strikes and play clean defensively, but we didn’t play very cleanly,” said Blues team manager Ronnie Palmer. “On the offensive side, we just weren’t opportunistic enough.”
Although he said that the finish left a bitter taste in his mouth, Palmer said that the team accomplished a lot in his first year as the team’s manager. The Blues rallied to a 28-24 overall record, and the program’s first division title in their three-year history. After such a fun summer, Palmer said he’s already looking forward to next season.
“This is a first-class organization,” the team manager said. “The ownership group is very passionate about what goes on here, and they want to compete at a high level. They treat the kids the right way and have been very good to the coaching staff.”
The series marked the end of the Blues’ summer campaign.
In their seventh year in the league, the Silver Knights went on to win their fourth FCBL title as back-to-back champions for the first time since winning back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012. The Silver Knights defeated the No. 6 Worcester Bravehearts, 4-1, in game one and, 2-0, in game two.
The Bravehearts eliminated the top-seeded Brockton Rox in the second round by upsetting them, 4-3, in game one and, 13-8, in game two. The Silver Knights advanced to the second round by defeating the No. 4 Pittsfield Suns, 5-2, on the road in a play-in game. The Bravehearts defeated the No. 3 Wachusett Dirt Dawgs, 9-2, on the road in the other play-in game.
AUG. 9—The Blues fell by a run, 10-9, to begin the postseason at the Silver Knights on Wednesday. The Silver Knights jumped out to an 8-2 lead after the fourth inning, but the Blues scattered runs over the next four innings to take a one-run advantage after the top of the eighth, combining for six runs in the fifth and sixth innings.
However, with one out and runners on first and second in the bottom of the eighth, the Silver Knights pulled away with the help of a run from a RBI single and an error made by catcher Jeff Shanfeldt.
“All summer long, we told our guys to just trust and play with their instincts, and he tried to make a play for us,” said Palmer. “You can’t fault any player for trying to make a play to get us out of an inning and situation.”
Both teams combined for 29 hits and six errors, as the Blues finished with 13 hits and three errors. Mark Tumosa paced the offense by going 4-for-5 at the plate with two runs scored and one RBI. Joel Torres (0-1) was credited with the loss on the mound after closing with three hits and two earned runs.
AUG. 10—The next day, the Blues suffered another one-run loss, 4-3, to the Silver Knights and ended their season at home. A solo home run in the second and RBI triple that scored a pair of runs in the third gave the Silver Knights a 3-0 advantage until the Blues knotted the score with a pair of runs in the sixth.
With one out, Alex Loparco advanced to first on an error by the shortstop, and Josh Zbierski walked. The pair eventually advanced to second and third on a wild pitch.
An out later, Logan Greene tied the game by driving in Loparco and Zbierski with a RBI single. Greene beat out the throw to first, which the first baseman ultimately mishandled.
“We had quality at-bats at that time,” said Palmer. “That was one of the few times in these two games that we really capitalized at a point where we could take the momentum and get it back on our side, and we did.”
With one out in the next inning, a misplayed fly ball by center fielder Chris Davis allowed a double. An out later, the Silver Knights drove in the game-winning run with a base hit to left field, as the throw to the plate wasn’t in time.
“Our guys played aggressive all summer, and I don’t want to single out that play,” the team manager said. “Offensively, we just left too many guys on base today. We left a lot of guys in
scoring position, and that’s the difference.”
Bristol loaded the bases with three walks in the eighth, but couldn’t bring any of those runs in, only registering three plate appearances in both the seventh and ninth innings.
The Blues mustered just four hits in the contest and committed three errors, uncharacteristically producing six errors over the course of both games combined.
“I don’t think it had anything to do with nerves,” said Palmer. “Our guys were trying to make plays and such and were a little too aggressive on some of them. When you play that way, that tends to happen.”
The Blues also left 11 runners stranded on base and six runners in scoring position.
“When we had runners in scoring position, we just couldn’t seem to get the key hit tonight, or last night as well,” the team manager said. “When you’re playing a short series like this, you have to take advantage of those opportunities. We didn’t and they did, and it’s kudos to them.”
Greene paced the offense by going 2-for-4 at the plate with two RBI and a walk. John Natoli (3-1) was credited with the loss on the mound after giving up two hits and an earned run in a pair of innings.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.