By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Trailing 2-0 going into the top of the sixth inning against Bristol Central, the Bristol Eastern baseball squad had the heart of its order up at the plate.
It was now or never for the Lancers.
Eastern got the job done, picking up three runs in the sixth to capture the lead for good as the Lancers came-from-behind to defeat Central 3-2 from Muzzy Field in Bristol on Wednesday, May 2.
Eastern (8-5) scored its runs in the sixth on a two-RBI hit by Jon Pierce while an error caused the winning-run to cross the plate.
But both squads had excellent pitching and for the winners, Jagger Duquette was simply a rock star that night.
Duquette went 6.2 innings, gave up one earned run, five hits, struck out nine, and walked just two to push his season ledger to 4-1 .
When the pressure was on, Duquette kept the entire Central (4-7) line-up off-balanced for nearly the entire contest.
“He was the story of the night,” said Eastern coach Mike Giovinazzo of Duquette. “One inning [Central] scored, and, you know, there were some things that didn’t go his way but he never let it get to him, maintained his poise throughout and he did a great job.”
Ethan Ryan ended up earning a one-out save for Eastern.
Steve Warkoski went the distance on the mound for Central but drew the loss in the end.
He also allowed only one earned run and five hits while posting four strikeouts.
“He was outstanding,” said Central coach Bunty Ray of his pitcher. “I can’t ask for much more. He does that every time he comes out. He’s a tough-luck loser three times this year already, coming out and one play costs him because you don’t have a potent offense…these are all plays under our control.”
The game came down to mental mistakes and Central had more than its share.
In the end, those miscues – including base running mistakes – proved more costly than the three official errors the Rams were charged with in the game.
“That’s why we lost the game,” said Ray of the mental mistakes. “I told the kids we’re overthrowing cutoff men, allowing guys to move up [bases]…they don’t value every ball hit and until they start to do that, you’re going to lose one-run games. That’s where we’re at right now with this team.”
“We’re very young and not valuing other things that win and lose baseball games.”
Off the losing effort, Central fell to 0-3 in one-run games this season.
The Rams were missing several players due to injury that night including starting catcher Jake Santiago and shortstop Noah Plantamuro who should be back with the team soon.
Warkoski picked up two strikeouts to open the first inning and when Central got off of the field, Austin Brown raced out a base hit to shortstop to start a rally.
Brown stole second with one gone but Duquette struck out Warkoski for the second out.
Jay Dias drew a base-on-balls to put two on but Spencer Lindroth fell via strikes as the game was quickly afoot.
After Warkoski retired the first five batters he faced, Eastern’s Noah Hickey (2-for-3) earned his way on base via an infield hit to deep shortstop and Carson Sassu followed suit as the thick infield grass was causing havoc for each team’s infielders.
Dave Bernier grounded out to the pitcher for what should have been the third out but an error on the throw loaded up the bases for John McPhee.
But one final groundout ended the Eastern portion of the scoreless affair.
Alec Balfour interjected some buzz into the crowd in the bottom of second as he drilled a double to the gap in right field and when Joe Maglio was beaned by a pitch, runners were on first and second for the Rams.
Ryan Krompegal then struck out but Brown slipped a grounder up the middle for a base hit – plating Balfour – as Central scooped up a 1-0 push.
Then Maglio scooted home on a wild pitch as the Rams’ edge reached 2-0 through two innings.
Eastern had two runners on in the third but did not score while in the bottom of the stanza, Central went down in order as the fourth inning was quickly upon the game.
And Hickey had yet another infield hit when his roller to shortstop took an unusual hop and the first batter of the fourth frame was on.
But a neat double-play snuffed out the drive and Bernier struck out as Central was cruising along, still ahead by a couple runs.
“For the most part, our defense was pretty good,” said Ray. “I can’t fault them there. We’re playing a good team but we need to play better.”
In the bottom of the fourth, Goulet made a slick grab to throw out Bouchard at first base and Duquette had allowed just three hits through four innings.
Warkoski retired five straight to get into the bottom of the fifth and Sassu made a diving put-out on Krompegal’s fly to right as Eastern’s defense, not making a mistake in the field that night, did not allow extra Central batters at the plate all game long.
“Rare for us, believe me, but a big factor. A big factor,” said Giovinazzo of his squad’s error free ball. “We had to play good defense because Jagger’s not a strikeout pitcher. He’s going to put balls in play and you’ve got to make the plays.”
But with two away in the bottom of the fifth, DiLoreto walked and quickly nabbed second base – getting into scoring position.
With the walk, Duquette had retired 10 of 11 batters but his squad’s offense had yet to produce.
Warkoski ended the fifth by flying out to right as Eastern made its play for the lead.
Josh Nohilly walked to open the top of the sixth as Goulet headed to the plate.
And he nearly took the top of the ball as his screamer to left went for a double and suddenly, Eastern had runners at second and third for Pierce.
“[Warkoski] walked their leadoff man and Goulet, their best player, hit a double,” said Ray. “It turned the completion and the momentum around in the game. They had to have an All-Star caliber player make a good swing on a ball. I thought Steven was trying to throw the ball out over the plate. We told him we didn’t want Mac to hurt us. He’s a great hitter and a great player.”
“He hurt us.”
Pierce, who has been on a tear as of late, then stroked a single to center, scoring both Nohilly and Goulet as it was a brand new game at 2-2.
“We wanted the ball a little bit more inside,” said Ray. “[Warkoski] just missed one spot.”
Pierce ended up at second on the play – all without the benefit of an out.
Sassu later drilled a grounder to Evan Bouchard at shortstop that was one-hopped to first base and thrown away, scoring Pierce, as Eastern went in front for good at 3-2.
“We had some bad approaches in our early at-bats,” said Giovinazzo. “We chased some bad pitches and we helped them out but [Warkoski] was doing a great job. He was spotting his pitches and he was making us chase. I think we finally sat on some good pitches and that’s when we started driving the ball.”
Down by a run, Central’s Jaylen Dias opened the bottom of the sixth with a long single to left and Desmond Deville came in to pinch run for him – representing the tying run.
Lindroth laid down a perfect bunt to advance Deville to second and with one down, Central had a runner in scoring position.
But Duquette got into the groove, posting strikeouts on Bochaud and Balfour and going into the seventh tilt, the Lancers’ one-run lead was holding firm.
The Central defense held in the seventh and down to its final three outs, it was do-or-die time for the Rams and Duquette was ready to close it out.
But Brown kept Central in it, drawing a walk with two outs, and DiLoreto spiked a single to center which ended Duquette’s excellent evening.
Ryan, who had pitched the previous day against Glastonbury, came it to save the game and off one final grounder – in which Goulet secured the ball and stepped on the third base bag to end the contest – giving Eastern win number eight as the Lancers beat the Rams 3-2.
“You’ve got to catch a break and we weren’t able to catch any breaks,” said Ray. “But, you still can’t just give the game away by allowing them to move up 90 feet.”
Eastern qualified for the playoffs with the victory but the squad has bigger goals in mind, which includes securing a home seed in state tournament play.
“I don’t want to be traveling to New Canaan this year, I’ll tell you that,” said Giovinazzo.