By MICHAEL LETENDRE
MANCHESTER – Longtime rivals, the Bristol Knights and Brickhouse Indians, squared off in the winner’s bracket of the Connecticut Twilight playoffs on Tuesday, Aug. 14 with an automatic berth into the CTL championship series hanging in the balance.
And Brickhouse took a two-run lead in the first inning, never looking back, as the squad ramped up a 3-1 victory from Mt Nebo Park in Manchester on Tuesday, Aug. 14.
While the Indians were propelled to the title round, Bristol was forced into the loser’s bracket and had to face the Chicago Sam’s Orioles – the top seed in all the CTL.
The winner advanced to play the Indians in a best-of-three series for the championship.
The Indians were sharp defensively and pitcher Mike Lord threw out of every jam he wandered into which made that early deficit that much more difficult to overcome.
“He’s been, not only as a great pitcher this year and great teammate, a great friend and he’s been a great hitter, outfielder and he’s done everything we’ve asked of him,” said long time Indians coach Chris Barsa of Lord. “We picked him up from a [New Britain] Bees tryout where he didn’t get signed there but we brought him here, maybe give him a little more competition and experience if he wanted to get to the next level which is his goal.”
Lord gave up just one run, three hits, and three walks while striking out five before making way for closer Griffin Bremer (2 IP, 4 Ks) who earned a save.
Lord and company faced a Bristol line-up without the services of Tommy Stagis, Marco Ross, and Kyle Pileski who had two RBI doubles in the previous playoff game against the Royals.
Lost in the effort was a good showing from Bristol chucker Nick Dzioba – allowing three runs on five hits in a complete game effort – while absorbing three errors in the field behind him which made it a long night for the outstanding pitcher.
He struck out four and walked just two batters.
The Knights ended up stranding eight runs on the evening, including three in the second inning alone – leading to doom and demise.
After a one out single by Nestor Velazquez, Eric Jaillet smacked a base hit to right center to put runners on the corners in the first frame.
Camden Mamigonian then launched a sacrifice fly to right field in foul territory, scoring a run, as the Indians led 1-0.
With pinch runner Mamigonian (it’s a CTL thing) on second base, John Aleman drilled a grounder to first base that Bristol’s Rex Cone just couldn’t grab as another run scored and through half-an-inning, Brickhouse led 2-0.
“Yeah, that was tough to come back from,” said Bristol coach Chris McGrath. “[Lord] was throwing like a no-hitter for three-and-a-half innings.”
In the bottom of the tilt, Kyle Lentini (1-for-3) drew a walk for Bristol, advanced to second via a passed ball but ended up stranded at the base as the first inning ended.
But Dzioba and company went 1-2-3 in the top of the second as it stayed a 2-0 contest.
Lord kept the gas on but ended up walking Cone who motored to second to tally a stolen base and another runner was in scoring position.
Tyler Favreau then walked on four straight balls and John Blais grounded out to the third baseman but the fielder couldn’t capture the ball as the miscue loaded things up.
But Julio Ortiz-Rivera flew out foul to deep left field as the Indians got out of the inning without allowing a run.
In the third, the Indians’ Chris Aleman reached base via an error to lead off the frame.
He later swiped second and when Jaillet walked, men were again on the corners with two outs.
But Mamigonian grounded out to Ricky Barrett at shortstop as the Knights slipped out of its own jam.
And Lentini finally got a hit for Bristol as his infield offering to deep shortstop was not playable and the Knights were back in business in the bottom half of the third.
Steve Clout earned a hard-fought walk to put two runners on but off a pop-up to end the frame, Bristol had left six runners on base to that point of the battle as Brickhouse still led by two runs.
Trent Dillion walked with one gone in the fourth and Brent Barth smoked a single just passed second base as the Indians had a couple runners on.
Christian Garcia advanced the duo over but when Dzioba fanned Mike Cookson for his third K of the game, the Knights got back to the dish.
Favreau looped a Texas Leaguer to left with one out in the bottom of the fourth as the tying runner came to the plate.
But Blais and Ortiz-Rivera ended up strikeout victims of Lord and going into the fifth, Brickhouse was still in control.
Another error allowed Chris Aleman to reach base and Donavan Carrasquillo came through with a single to left to lead off the fifth stanza.
Aleman quickly stole third and Carrasquillo took second as two runners were in scoring position.
With a full count and one out, the play of the game came to pass for the Knights.
Jaillet sailed a fly ball to mid-right field for the second out but it was deep enough for Aleman to make a mad dash home from third.
Ortiz-Rivera’s throw-in from right was on the money to Bristol catcher Justin Martella at the plate and a quick tag got Aleman to end the inning in dramatic fashion via a double play.
“That was huge,” said McGrath of the Ortiz-Rivera throw-in. “I thought we’d put a rally together after that. We had the momentum going, guys were fired up but, again, unfortunately, we couldn’t get it done.”
Lord was sharp in the bottom of the fifth – generating three quick outs – and as the sixth inning came upon the game, the Indians were still in charge 2-0.
“He was good today,” said McGrath of Lord. “He was effectively wild. He had a couple walks there but, unfortunately, we couldn’t get it done.”
Dzioba induced three grounders in the top of the sixth as he was throwing a four-hitter but Bristol was still trailing in the contest.
Lord stayed on the mound for Brickhouse to start the bottom of the sixth but Clout woke the Knights up.
He slammed a double to the gap in left and off the hit, Lord’s night was completed.
Bremer came into throw for Brickhouse and Bristol had several chances to score the tying run.
And on Bremer’s first pitch, the ball got away from the catcher and Clout was at third base.
Martella brought him home on a groundout to shortstop and with one gone in the sixth, the RBI tally trimmed the deficit to 2-1.
Cone was then fanned and Favreau grounded out to end the inning as Brickhouse was clinging to its one-run edge.
“One double to Clout almost started a rally,” said McGrath. “But unfortunately, we couldn’t get it done.”
In the seventh, Barth smacked a single that bounced out of Cone’s glove for a base hit and Garcia’s sacrifice bunt moved the runner into scoring position.
Tyler Buskirk came in to pinch hit – while pinch runner Dillion moved to third – and drew a full count.
Buskirk struck out but a passed ball scored Dillion and the insurance run made it 3-1.
And in the bottom of the seven, Bristol trailed by two runs and had to play a little catch up.
Blais opened the seventh with a flare to right as the base hit started another Knights’ rally.
But Bremer got the next three batters on strikes to end the game as the Brickhouse Indians advanced to the championship round while Bristol had to earn its way to the title series with a win over the Chicago Sam’s Orioles the following Thursday.
“Hopefully, we have a doubleheader [on Thursday] at Muzzy, our home field,” said McGrath. “We just have to win the first [game].”