By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The Bristol Central baseball team has lost five games this season by a combined five runs.
All the Rams’ losses have been one-run defeats but in a city series showdown against Bristol Eastern on Wednesday, May 1, that trend was finally reversed.
A sacrifice fly by Jaylen Dias in the top of the sixth inning proved to be the game-winning tally and combined with the stellar pitching of Gavin Greger, the Rams came away with a 3-2 win from Muzzy Field in Bristol to improve to 5-5 on the season.
Eastern dropped to 5-6 over the losing effort, dropping its sixth straight game.
Greger was excellent through six innings, allowing six hits, two runs, and punching out nine batters.
Even when he got into trouble during the third inning, which saw the Lancers collect three walks and two sacrifices, Central limited Eastern to just a single run as he wiggled out of the jam.
“The kid’s got moxie on the mound,” said Central coach Bunty Ray of Greger. “Now if we can get him to stay away from that high pitch count…but his ability to back up strikes after he’s thrown balls is pretty uncanny. That just shows his competitiveness. I couldn’t say enough to throw a freshman out there into that situation but I don’t treat him like a freshman. He’s just a polished player that is just going to keep improving.”
Eastern’s Jagger Duquette collected a tough-luck loss as the senior went the distance.
Falling to 3-2 on the year, Duquette threw a three-run, five-hitter that included a single walk while fanning six – pitching extremely well.
“Jagger did his job,” said Eastern coach Mike Giovinazzo. “He kept us in the game. Once again, our failure to produce a big hit and drive in runs is critical for us.”
Central didn’t have its best night offensively but did what it had to do to win the contest.
Also with the sacrifice by Dias, Alec DiLoreto posted a huge two-run single in the third frame while pitching a perfect seventh inning – earning a save in the process.
Austin Brown (2-for-3, run) battled off numerous two-strike pitches to open the game, eventually sending a seeing-eye single past Matt D’Amato between first and second base to get onboard.
But one final pop-up to D’Amato ended the half inning as Greger took the hill for the Rams.
He retired the side in order as the scoreless stalemate went into the second inning of play.
With one down in the second, Central’s Evan Bouchard raced out an offering that was bobbled at third base.
But Ryan Rodriguez lined out at shortstop and Peyton Clark struck out as Central was quickly back in the field.
Eastern put together a two-out rally in the bottom of the second that saw Noah Hickey bounce a ball off Clark at third for a hit. James Dauphinee also raced out an infield single that died before reaching the dirt at shortstop.
With two on, DH Devan Jacques grounded into a fielder’s choice as the 0-0 score continued into the third.
Central’s Nick Ruffino opened the third stanza with a flare to left with the top of the order due up.
Brown kicked in his second hit – a single to left that Jacobi Bouchard nearly ran down – as Central had two runners on.
Greger fell via strikes but a wild pitch advanced the runners as Central had men on second and third with one out.
Jake Santiago then earned a full-count walk and the bases were juiced.
With two outs, DiLoreto worked a 3-1 count and then roped a single into short right for two RBI as Central took control of the showdown at 2-0.
“You’re never going have offense against Duquette. You’re going to have to play off the mistakes,” said Ray. “They really didn’t make any. You’ve just got to hope for some base runners and make a big play.”
But the Lancers put something together in the bottom of the third tilt as Bouchard led off with a walk, as did Sassu, and the meat of the Eastern order had ducks on the pond.
A sacrifice bunt by Jack Kozikowski moved the runners before D’Amato walked to load things up.
Anthony brought in a run off a towering fly ball to right as the sacrifice RBI scored Bouchard to chop the deficit, 2-1.
But even off the three walks and two sacrifices, Central somehow survived the inning – taking a one-run push into the fourth frame of play as Eastern missed a big chance to tack multiple runs on the scoreboard.
“It’s been happening in our last six games during our losing streak,” said Giovinazzo of the lack of offense. “It was [actually] happening when we were winning. I knew it was going to catch up with us eventually.”
Eastern’s Ian Latko tracked down a deep fly ball in right for the second out in the fourth and Duquette picked two Ks as the Lancers were looking to tie up the game in the bottom of stanza with a run.
Hickey smashed out the hit of a game, a long fly ball to centerfield, as the junior legged it all the way to third base and the home team had something brewing.
And then the play of the game came and went to end the fourth inning.
With one gone, Jacques hit it to short center for the second out but with speedy Noah at third base, the ball had to get immediately thrown to the plate.
There was a bit of a collision in centerfield on the catch and Hickey hadn’t taken off from third right away.
The ball from the outfield came in and it completely sailed over the plate as Hickey was barreling home.
But Greger backed up the play behind home base, grabbed the loose ball, and quickly threw it to Jake Santiago as the catcher applied the tag on Hickey for the inning-ending out. That kept it a 2-1 game in Central’s favor off the double play.
“That’s understanding…on the overthrow, making a play,” said Ray of the inning-ending double-play. “That’s just a fundamentally sound play. You’re going to make mistakes, you’ve got to be there for your teammates, and you’ve got to make sure all bases are covered. It was just a head’s up play on [Greger’s] part.”
“It was an odd play,” said Giovinazzo. “[Hickey] wasn’t going to go. When they collided [in the outfield], I felt like he could score but he wasn’t committed to running home that’s why he kind of went, he kind of didn’t. I mean, when you read that ball in the air like that, with his speed, are you kidding me?”
“That shouldn’t have even been close.”
Duquette had retired six straight when Eastern got it ups in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Sassu nailed a single by third base as the game-tying run was on board.
Kozikowski followed up with a sharp base hit to left-center and Greger went back to work.
D’Amato then flied out to right but Anthony Marrotti walked to load things up.
And Latko slapped a ball into the deep infield grass on the left side of the mound, near third base, which slowed to a crawl and died as Sassu scooted home and it was a brand new game at 2-2.
Santiago generated his first hit of the event with a double down the left field line to open the sixth as Central had the game-winning runner on.
Santiago then swiped third base and scored off Dias’s deep fly to right, making it 3-2 via the sacrifice.
“It was a head’s up base running play by Jake Santiago and then just a great at-bat” by Dias said Ray. “Dias did not look good in his first two at-bats and we were kind of giving him the business because he’s a senior and he’s got to be better. And that last at-bat, I couldn’t be happier for how he was able to produce on a tough pitch.”
Eastern went for it in the bottom of the sixth as pinch hitter Dylan Woodsome walked to lead off the frame.
Woodsome stole second with two outs, getting into scoring position. However, Sassu flew out to center as Central’s 3-2 edge was holding into the seventh and final inning.
Duquette went the distance, putting together a 1-2-3 seventh as the Lancers needed at least one run to keep the game alive.
DiLoreto came in to close out the game and Eastern was retired in order as the pitcher earned the save and Central came away a 3-2 winner.
“This is the most competitive game we’ve played over the last six,” said Giovinazzo. “We’ve been horrible up till today.”
And finally breaking the streak, getting a one-run victory instead of losing the game by one, was a big deal for the Bristol Central baseball program.
“I’ve been telling my coaches I don’t think we should talk about it,” said Ray of the five one-run losses. “But when you win one, I think you should mention it so I hope we can build on it.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Michael Letendre, email him at MLetendre@BristolObserver.com.