By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Playing the Connecticut Twilight League tournament from its home turf of Muzzy Field, the Bristol Knights were looking to get into the championship round with a victory over the Chicago Sam’s Orioles on Thursday, Aug. 16.
Both teams had a loss in the double elimination format and it was a must win game for both teams to stay alive.
And for the locals, it wasn’t a good evening as Orioles’ pitcher Zach Sultar was masterful over a three-hit, eight strikeout shutout as the top ranked Orioles defeated the second rated Knights 4-0.
“That was his best game of the year,” said Orioles manager Don Fodaski of Sultar. “He had [eight] strikeouts today and after the first inning, he really settled down. It was great.”
The Knights finished up 19-9-1 on the season.
Bristol chucker Chris McGrath gave up nine hits over six innings but did just enough to hang in, hoping the Knights’ offense would eventually get rolling.
“I was very wild [and] threw a lot of pitches,” said McGrath. “I felt good the whole time. I don’t know. [The Orioles] had timely hits. They made the most of their base runners.”
The action was immediately for the “visiting” Knights as John Blais walked and when Georgie Santiago drew a 2-0 count, it was six straight balls by Sultar.
And after a quick timeout and chat with Fodaski on the mound, Sultar got right to work.
Santiago flew out to right, Lentini drew strike three and when Kyle Pileski popped up to second, the youngster on the mound wiggled out of trouble and the game was on.
“I thought we were going to push across a few (runs),” said Bristol coach Chris McGrath. “But, unfortunately, just like two nights ago, we didn’t get it done.”
And the Orioles were off to a fast start offensively as Zack Mack walked and Dustin Mocaldo was hit-by-a-pitch and quickly, two were on with no one out.
And when McGrath handed out another base-on-balls, the bases were loaded.
LaRosa flew to left for the first out, Adam Camilleri then popped up to second and when McGrath generated a strikeout to end the inning, a chance to score for the Orioles came and went.
Bristol’s Ricky Barrett led off the second with a walk and it looked like he was about to be picked off first base.
But the Knights’ veteran hustled down to second, beat the throw and the tag, and ended up in scoring position off the play.
However, three straight outs followed as the game remained a scoreless affair.
Chicago opened the bottom of the second with a single and Mack walked again as there were two on with two outs.
And Mocaldo drained a one-hopper to center field – plating a run – as the Orioles led 1-0.
McGrath hit another player with a pitch as the bases were loaded for Jack LaRosa.
LaRosa then drilled a shot to left field as Mack and Mocaldo both scored to make it 3-0 through two completed innings.
“I couldn’t get in a rhythm all night,” said McGrath. “I [just] couldn’t find the zone.”
And with one gone in the top of the third, long time Knight Earl Oakes made his 2018 re-debut, making it a good one.
Coming off an injury, he smashed the ball down the left field line for Bristol’s first hit of the game.
Blais followed up with another walk and with no outs, Bristol had the tying runner at the plate.
With one gone, a wild pitch advanced the runners as Lentini was at the dish.
Sultar consistently fell behind batters to that point of the game but did an excellent job battling from behind.
And when Lentini walked, Pileski had three ducks in the pond to work with.
But Pileski struck out as Chicago got away with another one, keeping its 3-0 edge intact.
A 1-6-3 play retired Camilleri to open the bottom of the third but the Orioles scratched out an infield hit to put a runner on with two outs.
A grounder to Blais at second got Bristol out of the third inning and going into the fourth, Bristol had some work to do at the plate.
But the Knights went down in order in the fourth and in the bottom of the fray, Chicago scratched out an infield hit and the top of the order was up for the Orioles.
An RBI single by Mack made it a 4-0 contest as the Bristol bullpen was seeing a little action.
Zack LaRosa added a single to put two on and when Camilleri dropped a base hit to left, Mack was looking to score.
But Santiago’s throw-in from left field easily gunned the runner down at the dish off a tag by catcher Justin Martella as the lead for the Orioles remained at 4-0.
After walking Lentini in the third frame, Sultan retired seven straight and going into the bottom of the fifth, the Orioles were still ahead by four runs on the scoreboard.
The Knights got out of the fifth tilt without allowing a run but the squad – to open the sixth – was down to its final six outs of the season if the team could not cobble together some runs.
Sultar quickly made it 10 straight retired batters as he had one-hit the Knights going into the bottom of the sixth.
Tyler Favreau suddenly rose from the grave, making a rare relief appearance. He struck out two batters and got his team into the seventh, still trailing 4-0.
With two outs, Julio Ortiz-Rivera out-ran an infield hit to shortstop and Martella jammed a single to left to put two on.
Suddenly, the tying for Bristol was in the on-deck circle.
Steve Clout drew a full count on Sultar but struck out as the Knights’ season came to a quick conclusion.
The Orioles advanced to the finals via the 4-0 win to battle the Brickhouse Indians in a best-of-three challenge.
“We scored a bunch of runs in the regular season,” said McGrath. “We couldn’t find a hit, couldn’t buy one in the playoffs during the last two games.”
And for Orioles, it was another victory against the Knights in the playoffs and a good chance of a back-to-back CTL championship with a win in the finals.
“It’s a very big win,” said Fodaski. “I respect [Bristol]. They’re a great team. We just happened to get a couple hits in the gaps today and our pitcher dominated. That’s really the difference.”