By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – It was bounce-back time for the Bristol Senior American Legion baseball team against West Hartford on Tuesday, July 9.
After dropping a tough 9-3 decision to Newington the previous day, the contest between Bristol and West Hartford was the rubber match between the two squads.
Post 2 dominated from start to finish as the home team rang up an 8-0 shutout victory from Muzzy Field.
“Yesterday, we laid an egg and that was the first one we did all year,” said Bristol coach Jerry LaPenta of the Newington loss. “We played okay, hit the ball hard [but] right at them. Everything went against us and just had a bad vibe from the beginning. It would be easy [against West Hartford] to come out against a good team and struggle but we came out and put a whipping on them.”
Bristol pitcher Alex Balfour peppered West Hartford with a plethora of different pitches, leading to several foul balls and late swings, posting the win on a four-hit, five-strikeout, six inning gem – moving to 2-0 on the campaign over his 108-pitch stint.
“Alex just threw a great game,” said LaPenta of Balfour. “He and I had a good sync going with our pitch calling. I basically pitched him like an off-speed lefty. We threw a lot of breaking balls and fastball counts, change-ups. And then the third time around when they were sitting on the breaking ball, I threw almost all fastballs.”
“I think it just screwed with their heads a bit.”
Credit the Bristol defense who made big plays behind the pitcher to keep Post 96 off the board.
At the plate, Noah Plantamuro went 3-for-4 with three runs scored while Cory Fradette was 2-for-2 with a sacrifice bunt, walk, and two runs scored.
Mac Goulet added a single, two runs scored and an RBI while Ryan Greene nabbed a base hit and collected a team best three RBI.
Josh Nohilly added two infield hits and Stephen Warkoski also generated a single over the winning effort.
Post 96 was pesky throughout but simply couldn’t string together a run-scoring drive.
But the game started off extremely well for the visitors.
West Hartford’s Colby Jones plunked a ball into left field for a base hit and with one gone in the top of the first.
And clean-up hitter Luke Fox laid down a perfect bunt towards the first base side of the mound as Balfour and Mac Goulet could not make a play on the ball to put runners on first and second.
A passed ball advanced the duo into scoring position and when Bryon Renker walked, the bases were loaded for Bryon Farley.
He worked a full count on Balfour. But the chucker caught Farley looking at strike three as two hits and three base runners did not produce a run for West Hartford.
That quickly became the theme of day for the visitors.
Bristol started the bottom of the first with zest as Plantamuro smacked a single up the middle while Fradette sacrificed him to second base.
Goulet ended up grounding out to third. But as the ball went to first for the putout, Plantamuro broke for third.
He beat the throw to third as the ball was chucked passed the bag and Plantamuro easily scored on the gaffe, giving Post 2 a 1-0 push through one frame.
In the second, Balfour plunked Emmett Coco in the foot. With one out, West Hartford had a runner on.
Chris Maglio bunted Coco over to second but another runner ended up stranded in scoring position for Post 96.
Alec DiLoreto drilled a two-out hit in the bottom of the tilt but did not come home as Bristol continued to lead it, 1-0.
Balfour sent West Hartford down in order in the third while Plantamuro drilled out his second hit of the game via a single to right with one gone.
And on Fradette’s base-on-balls, the ball got away from the catcher as Post 2 had runners on the corners with Goulet at the dish.
Goulet then slipped an RBI single into left to make it 2-0. When the ball got away from the fielder, both runners moved into scoring position on the miscue.
Greene followed up with a screamer that was drilled passed the first baseman as Fradette and Goulet scored – with the latter making it home safely on a close play at the plate. That made it a 4-0 game off the two RBI tally by the big man.
Josh Nohilly plopped out an infield single to first base as there wasn’t any fielder covering the bag and again, two Bristol runners were onboard.
West Hartford pitcher James Gadue helped generate the final two outs. But Post 96 was in a deep four-run hole going into the fourth stanza of play.
Renker opened the fourth with a base hit, Farley walked, and when Max Main was plunked by a ball, the bases were juiced with no one out.
But West Hartford didn’t sacrifice or even try to advance the runners, paying the price for it in the end with another scoreless inning.
“I think the biggest part of the game was when it was 4-0 and they had [men on] first and second with no outs, and they didn’t bunt,” said LaPenta. “I was shocked they didn’t bunt. It’s only the fourth inning there. If they get a bunt down there, maybe we throw it away [or don’t execute]. Even if we do execute, West Hartford gets second and third, you get a bloop hit, now it’s 4-2 and you’re right back in the game.”
Coco flew out to left in foul territory, pinch-hitter Bill Fox struck out. When Dan Fitzsimmons popped out to short, another three runners were stranded on base and seven overall for West Hartford to that point in the fray.
Gadue helped to put Bristol down in order in the fourth. But going into the fifth tilt, the home team was still in charge by four runs.
Fox laced a two-out hit into center the following inning. Renker walked for the second time as Post 96 had multiple men on the bases once again.
But another critical K by Balfour saw West Hartford strand runners eight and nine as Post 2 held its 4-0 edge in check.
Fradette opened the bottom of the fifth with a one-hopper to center and off a botched pickoff attempt, the speedster made it all the way to third base safely.
Goulet walked to put runners on first and third without the benefit of an out and Gadue’s night was over.
The West Hartford DH, Tim Cotter, then came in to pitch.
Greene grounded out to the shortstop and Fradette scored from third to make it a 5-0 game via the RBI.
Nohilly then jammed a shot to the shortstop, going for an infield hit. As the ball was thrown away to first base, Goulet trotted home to propel Bristol to a 6-0 lead.
And Nohilly scored on a wild pitch and the Post 2 lead increased to 7-0.
“We just kept adding on which was huge,” said LaPenta. “I was just really proud of the way the guys bounced back today.”
Balfour continued into the sixth inning for Bristol, allowing an opening inning walk, but nothing came of it as Post 96 stilled trailed by seven runs.
With one out in the bottom of the sixth, Plantamuro added his third single to the game. While Fradette bounced a one-hopper off the wall in right as the double had two Bristol runners on the bases.
Another wild pitch scored Plantamuro, making it 8-0. When the inning ended soon after, West Hartford had to make up eight runs in the top of the seventh frame to keep the event going.
Bristol put the game away with a 6-3 double play. Off one final grounder, the home team scooped up a big 8-0 win – taking another season-series in the process.
“That’s the theme we’ve been preaching all year since the zone changed,” said LaPenta. “[Just] keep winning the series and now we have the biggest test of the year coming up. We already beat Simsbury once [and] we have two games with them on Wednesday and Friday. I’d like to take both but if we win one, we take the series. It’s right there for us for the taking.”