By MICHAEL LETENDRE
SOUTH WINDSOR – The Bristol Knights were one of three teams left in the Connecticut Twilight League baseball postseason tournament on Tuesday, Aug. 15, having to beat top ranked Chicago to get into the final round.
But the Orioles had Liam Gallagher throwing from the hill and he cruised from the start.
Gallagher allowed just three hits over the shutout as Chicago sank the second rated Knights 2-0 – ending Bristol’s season at 19-8-2.
Impressively, Gallagher worked into the seventh inning while the Knights’ Mike Castellani (seven strikeouts) went the distance and never wavered despite a two-run fourth inning which was doomed by miscues and gaffes.
“He pitched well,” said Bristol coach Brian LaRochelle of Castellani. “The two runs he gave up were unearned. We beat ourselves with defensive mistakes, base-running mistakes once again.”
The Knights had chances to put up runs throughout the game and Bristol attempted to get on the scoreboard from the start.
Marco Ross singled on the first pitch of the contest but a slick 3-6-1 double play erased all the runners.
In the bottom of the first, Zach LaRosa beat out a bunt to the third base side of the mound but the Bristol pitcher threw the ball all the way down the right field line as the runner sprinted to third.
And then Castellani got himself out of jam when he picked off a line drive by Rafael Garica and induced one final grounder to close things, ending the inning without a run being scored.
The Knights tried to get things rolling in the second inning when Tyler Pina was plunked by a pitch and then on a hit and run, Oakes raced out a base hit to put two on.
Tyler Favreau then dropped a short fly ball to center and Pina was off from third base – attempting to score.
The play at the plate was extremely close, a bang-bang situation, that went in Chicago’s favor as Pina was tagged out, ending Bristol’s portion of the second and keeping it a 0-0 stalemate.
“My teammates told me Tyler was definitely safe,” said LaRochelle of play at home plate. “It looked to me from where I was standing like he might have been out.”
Castellani threw a 1-2-3 second to keep the Orioles’ bats silent as Bristol was looking to draw first blood in the third.
It didn’t happen for the Knights and Chicago was also denied a run to keep things scoreless.
Kian Downes opened the bottom of the third tilt with a deep double to center and went to third on a Brendan Sullivan grounder.
Castellani struck out Chris Bouchard and when Dustin Mocadlo hit a come-backer at the Knights’ pitcher, the third inning ended and the 0-0 battle was continued into the fourth frame.
Gallagher was sharp through four innings, allowing just two hits and striking out three to keep the contest without a score.
In the bottom of the fourth, things fell apart on the Knights.
Shortstop Tommy Stagis made a great stop of a LaRosa grounder, robbing him of a hit, but Rafael Garcia sent a shot to short that was thrown into the dirt at first base and the runner went to third on the error.
He later scored on an RBI single to make it a 1-0 game and when the ball got past the plate area on the play, another runner ended up at third base and in scoring position.
Adam Camilleri ended up striking out but a passed ball allowed him to take first base as the throw went to third, attempting to pick off the runner, but did not net an out.
With runners on the corners, Castellani fanned Narducci but Chicago nabbed another run off the old pickle play.
Camilleri got himself caught in a rundown between first and second base and the runner from third hit the jets to score on a late throw home, giving the Orioles a 2-0 push through four completed frames.
“We had that one blow-up inning where we had the base-runner reach on a third strike, where we had the overthrow and the guy ended up taking three bases and we had a miscommunication during the pickoff play,” said LaRochelle. “When it rains, it pours.”
Pina opened the fifth tilt with a long ball to the centerfield fence as Bristol finally showed a little life at the plate via his double.
Earl Oakes flew out and Tyler Favreau popped up but when Gallagher tried to pick off Pina at second, the ball sailed into centerfield and the runner moved to third.
Barrett, in a real war with Gallagher, wiggled a walk off the at-bat and with Stagis up, the go-ahead run was at the plate and men were at first and third.
But Stagis popped out in foul territory at first base as Chicago remained on top, 2-0.
Castellani retired the side in the bottom of the fifth and in the sixth, veteran Scott Dickens was up to bat for the final time in his CTL career.
Like in so many situations before, he earned a walk as the top of the order was due up.
Bristol just couldn’t move the pinch runner along as Clout ended the frame with a long fly to right as the Orioles maintained their 2-0 push.
An infield hit by LaRosa in the bottom of the sixth did not produce anything and when Castellani earned his seventh and final strikeout of the game, the Knights had one last chance to tie the thing up in the top of the seventh.
“I really feel good about the way Castaloni pitched,” said LaRochelle.
Kyle Lentini led off the top of the seventh with a full count walk as Gallagher was lifted from the mound for Garcia.
Bristol had three chances at it with the tying runner in the batter’s box.
Pina later struck out but Lentini took second and moved to third off an error.
And on a passed ball, Lentini broke from third to home.
The speedster slid to the plate, appeared to beat the tag, but was called out for the second putout at home in the game as Chicago dodged another bullet, still leading 2-0.
“I was very close to the Lentini play, he was 100 percent safe,” said LaRochelle. “So, in a perfect world, we get out of there with a 2-1 win if we could have prevented the runner on third from scoring during that two run [fourth] inning we had.”
But Oakes’s game-ending line drive was caught at third base as Bristol dropped a tough 2-0 decision to complete its playoff run.
“I’ll give their pitcher credit,” said LaRochelle of Gallagher. “He threw a lot of strikes and he minimized mistakes and they played really good defense [behind him].”
The errors never gave Bristol a chance in the showdown and the Knights just couldn’t generate that one hit with runners on scoring position.
“The bottom line is we didn’t get the big hit to open the game up,” said LaRochelle. “We had a chance. Steve Clout hit a ball really well. Marco drove a ball to deep centerfield. Even Earl at the end there hit a hard line-drive to third base but nothing found a hole.”