By MICHAEL LETENDRE
WINSTED – The pitch count rule didn’t do the Winsted Senior American Legion baseball squad any favors in its Zone 1 showdown against Bristol on Wednesday, July 11.
And once Winsted starter Ryan Sholtis was lifted in the game after his 105th pitch, Post 2 pounced on the overmatched bullpen.
Bristol broke a 1-1 tie in the seventh inning with three runs and riding an amazing effort by Alec Balfour on the mound, Post 2 finally defeated Winsted this season – winning 4-1 from Walker Field in Winsted.
The victory kept Bristol (12-4-1 overall) in second place in the Zone 1 standings at 10-4 while Winsted slipped to 9-6.
It was another battle against big Sholtis on the mound (5.2 IP, 1 ER, no decision) but once the bullpen hit the hill, the game quickly fell apart for the home team.
“I think in the sixth, he had 92 (pitches),” said Bristol coach Jerry LaPenta of Sholtis. “Then he had two outs with three pitches. So I had a couple guys take strikes, just trying to get his pitch count up. It’s kind of a stupid way to coach now but you almost have to do it because we’re not going to touch him. He was in a groove.”
“We stole one run so if you can get their best pitcher out of the game, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
On the other side, Balfour was sensational, showing excellent control in his first start of the campaign.
He allowed one run on four hits, picking up four strikeouts along the way, in what turned into a complete game gem for the former Bristol Central chucker.
“He was just awesome,” said LaPenta of Balfour. “He pitched yesterday, came in over at Wolcott and threw two innings of only 17 pitches. His stuff looked really good. Originally, I was going to start Cory [Fradette] this game and I knew he wasn’t going to go the whole game. So I would rather have Cory at the end of the game. So I said to Alex ‘Give me what you can give me.’”
“He was in such a good groove and no matter what it was, he was staying in until he was out of pitches. It was his game to win or lose.”
Post 2 made gains on Sholtis over the contest but the big hit never developed to score runs against him.
Bristol’s Noah Plantamuro greeted Sholtis with a one-out single to center in the top of the first to get something going early.
Jake Violette (2 BB, run) broke his bat on an infield hit to deep third base to put two on with two gone.
Plantamuro advanced to third on a passed ball and on the “Bristol pickle” play, Violette broke for second.
But Joey Grantmeyer behind the plate didn’t bite for Violette at second as he tossed the ball to third base and quickly, Plantamuro was in a pickle of his own.
Plantamuro was tagged out at the dish as the inning was over without Bristol getting a tally on the scoreboard.
Winsted’s Jayson Reola smacked an infield hit in the bottom of the first but was picked off first base via a 1-3-6-1 putout and through one inning, it was a scoreless game.
Bristol’s Anthony Lozier, who played well in two games at Walker Field this year, drew a two-out walk in the top of the second but was thrown out trying to advance to second.
Grantmeyer walked on four pitches to open the Winsted portion of the second but when Kevin Sullivan popped out foul to Bristol catcher Jeremy Ganavage, a chance to advance the runner was snuffed out.
The rest of the Winsted batting order was retired as Post 2 was looking to draw first blood in the third tilt of the showdown.
Fradette nabbed a single with two outs in the third as another runner made it safely on base for Bristol.
He then stole second to get into scoring position and when Plantamuro walked, the pitch got away from Grantmeyer and Fradette was at third base.
And with runners on the corners, the “Bristol pickle” was applied again and this time – when Plantamuro broke for second – the throw home was off the mark to catch the speedy Fradette.
The run made it a 1-0 game with Plantamuro moving to third base on the bad throw.
Mac Goulet later walked, putting runners on first and third once again before Goulet took second base without any resistance.
And when Violette drew a base-on-balls – the third consecutive walk for Bristol – the bases were juiced for Ryan Greene with two outs.
The slugger grounded out to second but Bristol led 1-0 going into the bottom portion of the third.
Cameron Wilhelm (base-on-balls, single) walked to open the third for Winsted and was bunted over to second by Zachery West as the top of the order came up to bat.
But Noah McDonald grounded out to Balfour on the mound and Mike Oley hit one right at Fradette as Bristol escaped another leadoff walk to keep its 1-0 push intact as the fourth inning commenced.
In the fourth, Lozier greeted Sholtis with a loud double to left and when Alec DiLoreto (two walks) earned a base-on-balls for Bristol, the duo each advanced a base via a wild pitch.
But Fradette flew out to right as another chance to tack on a run came and went – though Sholtis’s pitch count was at 77 – as Post 2 maintained its 1-0 edge.
“We had a couple chances early against [Sholtis], guys in scoring position with two outs,” said LaPenta. “We [just] didn’t get a two-out hit.”
Balfour, throwing a one-hitter to that point of the game, went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the fourth as Violette made two putouts in the fourth in center field and Bristol was still ahead by a run.
Goulet reached base in the fifth when the third basemen didn’t get a glove on his grounder and moved over to second with two out.
But Post 43 again got away without allowing a run as the home team trailed 1-0 halfway through the fifth tilt.
Balfour’s first pitch of the fifth hit Boloinski and the tying runner was once again on base via the leadoff position.
Caleb Shpur bunted Mike Bobinski to second while Wilhelm dropped a one-hop single to left as runners were on the corners for Winsted.
Vincent Tancreti then came in to pinch hit for West and bounced into a 4-6 fielder’s choice but the play to get the runner at first was not in time as the RBI tally tied the thing up at 1-1 and that score carried into the sixth stanza.
Teetering on the pitch count limit, Sholtis generated a couple quick outs but Ganavage drained a two-out single to center and a passed ball put the runner into scoring position.
But Sholtis didn’t last DiLoreto’s at-bat as pitch number 105 – and a full count on the Bristol batter – automatically retired the starting pitcher and forced Luke Green to come in and throw.
DiLoreto walked and Lemke came in to pinch run as runners were on first and second for Fradette.
Fradette drew four balls as well and with two outs, Bristol had the bases loaded with Plantamuro at the dish.
But he grounded out to wrap up things and going into the bottom of the sixth, Winsted and Bristol were still deadlocked at 1-1.
Balfour was in the groove in the sixth as he pumped in two quick strikeouts before Grantmeyer tried to put the ball into orbit.
He slammed a shot into the gap in right and the Bristol outfielders were forced to give chase.
Grantmeyer rounded second as the relay throw came into Fradette.
Fradette then gunned the ball to Goulet at third and Grantmeyer slid right into the tag to end the sixth stanza with the score still tied up at 1-1.
Green allowed Violette to draw a one-out walk in the seventh as the go-ahead runner was on and Ryan Greene was looking for something good in his turn at the dish.
He certainly made something happen as Greene smashed a long double to the gap in left as Violette easily scored to give Post 2 the lead for good at 2-1.
“Ryan stepped up and got a big two-out hit,” said LaPenta. “That kind of opened the gate up.”
And Bristol wasn’t done.
With Greene on second, Steve Warkoski unleashed a bunt in front of the plate but the ball was chucked away going to first base – eventually plating Greene – as Post 2 nabbed a 3-1 edge.
Ganavage was then plunked by a pitch and runners were back on the corners.
Lemke followed up with a loud RBI single to center and when Warkoski tagged home plate, it became a 4-1 contest.
“Winsted made an error and Mike got another hit,” said LaPenta. “It took the pressure off in the bottom of the seventh.”
A wild pitch advanced both runners but one final fly-out completed Bristol’s offense on the evening and with half-an-inning to go, Winsted had to rally – trailing by three runs.
Even as Winsted generated a leadoff hit by Kevin Sullivan, Balfour induced three straight fly-ball outs to end the game as Bristol came away a 4-1 winner on the road.
“He did such a great job,” said LaPenta of Balfour.
The win maintained Bristol’s second place Zone 1 standing and in the upcoming state tournament, that means a start at home for the runner-up squad.
“To win the zone, we still need help,” said LaPenta. “But the first step is to beat Avon [Thursday]. If we can’t get the zone, we have to at least finish second because that way, we can get a home game in the playoffs to start. This was a huge step because if we lose this game, Winsted jumps a step ahead of us by a half-a-game. Now we have a two-game [cushion] in the loss column against Winsted.”