By MICHAEL LETENDRE
MERIDEN – It’s never over until it’s over.
That was the mantra of the Junior American Legion Baseball team from Bristol and in its state tournament championship game against Stamford on Sunday, Aug. 6, that edict came to pass.
Down to its final out, its final strike, Bristol’s Evan Bouchard lofted a fly ball to right field for what should have been a catch, the final out, and a championship celebration by Stamford.
But the ball was dropped, two runners scored for Post 2 and suddenly, it was 2-2 stalemate and a brand new game.
Bristol then scored two more runs in the top of the eighth, Stamford countered with a tally in the bottom of the frame but it wasn’t enough as Post 2 grabbed an improbable, an impossible 4-3 win to earn the Connecticut 17U Junior Legion baseball state championship.
It was a two-out rally in the top of the seventh for Bristol as Kyle Lauretti and Nick Ruffino picked up back-to-back walks off relief pitcher Noam Haron.
Bouchard then came to the plate and down to his last strike, he jammed a shot to the right fielder who measured it but didn’t clamp down on the ball as it spun out of his glove.
Pinch runner Dylan Woodsome came in to score as a Stamford player in the infield had thrown his glove in the air – not realizing the ball had been dropped – while Ruffino was near the third base bag but stopped just short of it.
“I had to do something,” said Bouchard. “I wasn’t letting my team down because we fought so much this whole season. So I put it in play. I looked up, I saw [the right fielder] dropped it and I think Nick [Ruffino] on third base, he didn’t at first realize [what was happening] and I was waving him on to go.”
“It’s a crazy feeling I can’t even explain.”
Through the confusion, Ruffino made it home as stunned Stamford players realized the game was suddenly tied at 2-2 and an extra innings were required.
And then Bristol chucker Trevor Mays (complete game, nine hits, one walk) was able to get out of a bases loaded jam with one final groundout as Post 2 came-from-behind to win it.
“It was definitely the best game of my career. No doubt,” said Mays. “It was probably one of the closest. I had a lot of adrenaline. It felt really good to get the win.”
Lost in the effort was an outstanding performance by Stamford pitcher Matt Tiplady who allowed one hit over his 6.1 innings of work (8 Ks) before leaving the game via the pitch count rules.
Bristol managed only three hits in the showdown but that was enough.
And in the top of the first tilt, Bristol went on the attack.
Bouchard’s grounder to shortstop was booted and when Tyler Donohue’s sacrifice bunt was run out for an infield hit, Post 2 had two runners on.
Dillon Hudson was then plunked by a pitch and quickly, the bases were juiced.
Anthony Marrotti lofted a fly ball to short centerfield for the first out and Bouchard was off to the races from third base but he got tagged out at the plate for a double play.
Joe Crowley walked to reload the bases with Jack Kozikowski at the dish.
But he flew out to left and despite four bases runners, Post 2 came out of the half inning without the benefit of a run.
Stamford responded as Ethan Anderson sprayed a single to left and Anthony Possidento bunted him over to second.
And with two outs, Joey Gambino dropped a base hit into right – plating Anderson – to give Post 3 a 1-0 lead through one inning of action.
Bristol and Stamford were both retired in order in the second tilt and Post 2 immediately went back to work offensively.
Bouchard grounded a ball to third base but it was bobbled and badly thrown to first to put the runner on in the third.
He later stole second base but did not score as Stamford’s 1-0 lead was holding.
Mays retired seven straight – and nine of 10 finishing up the third frame – and was keeping his pitch count low.
“His average per inning is usually 11 pitches,” said Bristol coach Bill Mason of Mays. “He stuck to that and was under that today.”
Tiplady was also in the zone – striking out the side in the fourth – retiring 10 of 11 batters – and kept his squad’s 1-0 tally intact.
In the bottom of the fourth, Stamford’s Shane Hackett opened the inning with a long double to center as Post 3 was back at it again.
“He was probably the best all-around hitter I’ve faced all season,” said Mays of Hackett.
And with one out, Donoghue drained a single to the gap in right as Hackett scored – making it a 2-0 contest.
A slick 6-4-3 double play ended the inning but Bristol had some work to do at the plate, now trailing by two.
In the fifth, Lauretti sent a rope to third base for the first out and the breaks simply weren’t coming Bristol’s way.
By the end of the half inning, Tiplady had retired nine in a row and Stamford was in the lead.
Ross Green jammed a leadoff single to start the fifth for Post 3 and was moved to second via bunt by Jack Palmer.
But Tyler Lueders lined a shot right to Mays on the mound for the second out and the pitcher easily tossed the ball over to second to get the runner off the bag to complete the double play and end the stanza.
“We made our plays on defense,” said Mason.
Bristol got back to the plate in the sixth as Donohue drew a leadoff walk and quickly nabbed second to get into scoring position.
But Dillion Hudson popped out foul, Marrotti fell to strikes and when Crowley’s flare was caught in right field, Tiplady’s one-hitter through six innings would be his line of the game.
Hackett slipped in a two-out single in the bottom of the sixth but Mays left the mound with a two-run, six hitter in hand and one heck of an effort in the championship game – to that point of the showdown.
With one gone in the seventh, the pitch count caught up with Tiplady and Stamford would have to go to someone different to save, or lose, the game.
Haron came in to pitch, getting pinch hitter Andrew Lozier out on a grounder for the second putout.
But Lauretti and Ruffino drew two-out walks to put the go-ahead runner at home plate.
Woodsome came in to run for Lauretti and then, it was tomfoolery time.
Bouchard slammed his fly to right, the ball was dropped, and havoc ensued.
“I was so scared,” said Mays of the play. “I thought [the right fielder] was going to drop it to be honest. I saw the ball going [after dropping it] and then he ran it down and I was really happy.”
Both Woodsome and Ruffino scored to tie the thing up in a wild display and Bouchard ended up at second in the now 2-2 game.
And after one final strikeout, despite allowing only one hit in the game to that point, it was all tied up and the pressure was on Stamford to respond.
Michael Berlingo walked with one gone in the bottom of the seventh but Kozikowski made a spectacular catch in right for out number two.
And when Jack Palmer popped out to end the seventh, the game moved into extra innings.
Bristol got its second hit of the game in the eighth stanza when Hudson sent a one-hopper to left to put the game-winning runner on.
A passed ball advanced Hudson to second and an RBI single by Crowley to right made it a 3-2 game and Bristol was on top on the scoreboard for the first time all afternoon long.
“We got timely hitting and was able to do what we needed to do,” said Mason.
Owen Davis then drew a four-ball walk to put two runners on with two outs while Lauretti followed suit with a base-on-balls to load things up.
And on a full count, Ruffino walked home a run – proving to be the game winning tally – as Bristol led 4-2 after scoring that huge insurance run.
“We came in and we dropped two runs,” said Mays of the eighth inning. “It was big.”
Then, in the bottom of the eighth, Mays hit the first batter he faced in the inning as Lueders took first base and then advanced to second when a pickoff play saw the ball bounce into the bleachers for an error.
With Lueders on second base, Anderson grounded out to shortstop for the first out.
Lueders moved to third on the play but a come-backer to Mays by Possidento saw Post 2 get within one out of the state championship.
But Hackett dropped in a single to left to score Lueders, chopping the deficit to one.
Joey Gambino then out-raced an infield hit to shortstop to put two on with two gone.
And when Donoghue sent a grounder to shortstop, the throw came to first base a bit off line but it appeared as Lauretti had the final out in hand after gathering the ball.
However, the runner was safe, and after a bit of a conversation between Mason and the officials, the bases were loaded, and Michael Berlingo was up at the plate.
With two outs, Berlingo’s grounder was smoked right at Lauretti at first base.
Lauretti gathered the ball, calmly stepped on the bag, and the celebration was on as Bristol won its second Connecticut Junior American Legion Championship in eight years – capturing a 4-3 victory in eight innings.
“It’s a lot fun. I can’t wait for the regionals,” said Mays.
NOTES…Bouchard was awarded the top hitter of the tournament, Stamford’s Matt Tiplady was the most outstanding pitcher and the MVP, from Bristol, was Trevor Mays…Bristol moves on to Northeast Regional at Windsor Locks to square off against the Rhode Island runner up this Friday at 1 p.m.
Comments? Email mletendre@BristolObserver.com.