STRATFORD – The Bristol Eastern baseball team needed late season heroics to qualify for the CIAC, Class L Tournament this season – a streak that dates back to 1999.
And that’s exactly what happened as Lancers earned a qualifying play-in game against Bunnell on Saturday, May 25 with the locals traveling to Stratford in an attempt to enter the official 32 team fray.
Eastern nabbed an early edge in the contest but simply couldn’t hold onto the lead as the Lancers were eliminated by the Bulldogs, 6-1.
The Lancers finished its season with a record of 8-13 while Bunnell (9-12) advanced to play against defending Class L champion, second ranked Wethersfield on Wednesday, May 29.
Eastern was stuck with a 5-11 ledger towards the end of the season but the program won three of its final four games to qualify for the postseason.
The Bulldogs eliminated the Lancers for the second time over the last five years. Bunnell hung a 3-2 loss on Eastern in the quarterfinals of the Class L tournament back on June 5, 2015.
The Lancers had only five hits for the game, all singles, as Noah Hickey smashed out two hits to lead the offense against the Bulldogs.
For Bunnell, Taylor Perry led the offense with three singles, two runs scored and an RBI while Roper drilled two singles and blasted out a triple.
But this game belonged to the Lancers early as Eastern pitcher Trevor Mays went three scoreless innings to open things.
And the Lancers were able to take control from the onset, scooping up a 1-0 lead in the top of the first frame.
Carson Sassu led off the first frame with an infield single, Andrew Lozier was hit by a pitch, and the runners were moved up to second and third on a sacrifice bunt.
Sassu later scored on an RBI groundout by Nathan Ouellette as the Lancers etched up a 1-0 lead through one inning of play.
And Eastern also threatened in the second tilt, loading the bases with just one out.
A batter was plunked by a pitch, Hickey drilled a single to left, and off an infield error, the bases were juiced.
But Bunnell lefty Colin Richards snuck out of the jam by generating a foul pop-out and a come-backer – ending the threat.
Eastern then had two runners on in the third inning as a single by Jack Kozikowski and a walk had the visitors on the bases again.
However, that one critical hit never came as the Lancers could not score again.
After the third inning, Richards – eventually throwing a complete game for the Bulldogs – allowed only two additional hits.
Singles by James Dauphinee and Hickey in the sixth were the only late game offense Eastern was able to muster while Richards struck out six over the final four frames of play.
Trailing by one going into the bottom of the fourth, Bunnell went to its small ball attack, scoring two runs and snatching a 2-1 edge it would never give up.
Perry led off with a single to left, was sacrificed to second, and moved to third on a perfect bunt single down the third base line by Cullen Roper.
The lead runner scored on an infield single as Eastern’s third baseman Jack Kozikowski made a diving stop on a grounder from Jeremiah Abreu – throwing to first from his knees – but could not get the runner as it became a 1-1 game.
Roper then scored the second run of the inning on a safety squeeze bunt by Ryan Nelson as the Lancers fell behind 2-1 after four completed innings.
In the Bunnell fifth, Justin Herrea led off with a single, ending the night on the mound by Mays.
Jagger Duquette came into pitch, trying to get the Lancers out of the fifth frame jam.
Following a walk and a strikeout, Perry singled to center to score Herrea to make it a 3-1 game in the Bulldogs’ favor.
Pierce Barnum’s sacrifice fly scored another run and Roper – on an 0-2 pitch – sliced a triple to right field to score Perry for the third run of the inning, posting the Bulldogs to a 5-1 lead.
And in the sixth, Bunnell added one final run.
Nelson doubled to get onboard and two wild pitches later, he crossed the plate to make it 6-1 – ending the scoring in the showdown.
The game marked the final contest for Eastern seniors Carson Sassu, Ian Latko, Ethan Ryan, Jagger Duquette, Noah Hickey, Trevor Mays, Alex Valley, and James Dauphinee.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Michael Letendre, email him at MLetendre@BristolObserver.com.