By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL — It might have taken two hours and 45 minutes but the Bristol Little League City Series battle between the Forestville Dodgers and the McCabe-Waters Astros on Monday, Aug. 19 was worth every second of it.
Even the Dodgers imposing 7-0 lead wasn’t safe in the end as the Astros attempted a furious comeback with the squad just one sixth-inning hit away from tying up the showdown.
But Forestville hung on to win it by a 7-4 score — advancing the Dodgers to the championship series on Saturday, Aug. 24.
It was the first City Series battle of the year.
The Astros (17-2 overall) had the deficit cut to three with the bases loaded and two outs but just couldn’t deliver that one fatal blow which would have taken the Dodgers to the brink.
“It was the whole day,” said Astros manager Matt Pirog about being one hit away. “That was the whole day. It went every inning. [But] the kids played tough.”
The Astros left a dozen men on base and one hit in any of the six innings could have turned the balance of the contest in McCabe-Waters’s favor.
Forestville pitcher Aiden Lopez sizzled from the start. Over his four innings and over his 86 pitches, he did not yield a hit.
He struck out the side in every inning to keep the Astros’ offense at bay.
“He’s an amazing, amazing kid,” said Dodgers manager Clay Roberts of Lopez. “He does a great job, he really does.”
Lopez’s battery mate, Hector Rivera-Martinez, did one heck of a job catching for all four pitchers that Dodgers employed that evening.
Passed balls were kept at a minimum with Rivera-Martinez behind the dish.
“He did a tremendous job behind the plate,” said Roberts of his catcher. “I mean a tremendous job. Not much got by him. He deserves a lot [of credit].”
Mason Allen had the only hit for the Angels and reached base another time via an error.
The Dodgers’ Dante DePass had a multi-hit game with two singles to go along with a walk and two RBI.
Nick Ziegel and Rivera-Martinez nabbed the other hits for the visitors.
And in the top of the first frame, the Dodgers were on the attack.
With two gone in the first, DePass walked, as did Kaden Paghense, while the lead runner reached third base on a passed ball to place men on the corners.
And then Ziegel bounced a hot-shot off the glove of the first baseman, just beating out a hit as the RBI tally gave the Dodgers a 1-0 lead through just a half inning of work.
On the flip side, the Astros’ Tom Pirog was hit by a 2-2 pitch. Quickly, the home squad had a runner on.
A passed ball moved Pirog into scoring position but Lopez lined up three strikeouts as the Dodgers maintained their 1-0 lead going into the second.
Donnie Rodriguez led off the Dodgers portion of the stanza with a walk but was out at second via a slick 1-6 fielder’s choice to nab the lead runner.
Off Astros’ starting pitcher Chase Dauphinee’s third strikeout of the game – going once through the Dodgers’ batting order – Allen moved from shortstop to the mound with two outs in the inning.
A wild pitch advanced Jake Koscho. But Lopez flew out to left to end the inning. The Astros came up to the plate still trailing by one.
Billy Zabawa led off the bottom of the second with a walk. A passed ball got the hustler to second base in scoring position.
Landon Leveque also drew a base-on-balls. Once again, Lopez picked up three K’s and the Forestville Dodgers were still leading.
In the top of the third, Rivera-Martinez was hit-by-pitch on a full count. With two outs, Allen plunked Ziegel with a ball – setting up first and second.
But Allen struck out Xavier Kalaquin as the Astros kept it a 1-0 game.
McCabe-Waters had the top of its order up in the bottom of the third. Allen reached base via an error at shortstop and the tying run was on.
However, Lopez was in the groove, posting K after K – reaching eight before walking Lincoln Bashaw — putting two on with two outs.
And for the third consecutive frame, Lopez struck out the side. The Dodgers were still leading by a single run through three.
The fourth inning proved to be a big one for the Dodgers as the squad hung up five big runs.
Forestville subs Tyler Ryan and Chase Deschaine each walked with one out and Allen was forced to face the top of the order.
A passed ball advanced the duo into scoring position while Lopez walked – loading up the bases.
Rivera-Martinez unleashed a single through the infield grass, out to centerfield, which scored Ryan and Deschaine to make it a 3-0 push.
But the Dodgers weren’t finished as DePass dropped a one-hopper into center that scored Lopez. A passed ball allowed Rivera-Martinez to cross the plate and it became a 5-0 contest – all with one out.
“Every hit matters,” said Roberts. “Just put the ball in play [and] make [the defense] make the plays on you.”
Ziegel walked to reload the bases and a passed ball brought DePass home as the Dodgers were up a half-dozen runs.
Forestville batted around in the stanza as Zach Colannino drew a base-on-balls to juice the bases. But Allen got out of the inning with a K of Ryan. Halfway through the fourth, it was a 6-0 game.
The Astros’ Landon Sisson and Joey John both walked to open the fourth and the team was on the move.
Lopez quickly generated his 10th and 11th strikeout – looking to fan the side for the fourth consecutive inning.
Allen worked a full count on Lopez before looking at strike three as he finished the game with strikeout number 12 on the evening.
“They just had a couple rough innings today,” said Pirog of the Astros. “They faced a great pitcher today. The kid [Lopez] was amazing [and] they made plays [behind him].”
Pirog came into throw to start the fifth for the Astros and Lopez walked with one out to start another drive.
And DePass dropped a single to the warning track to plate Rivera-Martinez as the game became a 7-0 contest in the Dodgers’ favor.
“They got a couple key hits when they needed it,” said Pirog of the Dodgers. “And they got some base runners on and did what they were supposed to do.”
Ziegel then came into throw for the Dodgers in the bottom the fifth and walked Dauphinee, Pirog, and Lincoln Bashaw to put three runners on with no one out.
Zabawa then blasted a shot that looked to be headed for the outfield; but DePass made a great grab at second base for the first out.
Dauphinee eventually scored the Astros’ first run on a passed ball – trimming the deficit to 7-1 – and Sisson walked to reload the bases.
DePass then came into throw for the Dodgers; but another ball got by the catcher, allowing Pirog to score, and the Astros were trailing 7-2.
Ziegel walked to open the final stanza, as did Donnie Rodriquez, as the Dodgers were looking to pad their tally.
Koscho then hit into a 7-5 fielder’s choice for an out. A passed ball put runners on second and third with two outs.
The Astros simply refused to yield a run; but the home squad was down to its three final outs in the sixth, trailing 7-2.
A one-single by Allen broke up the Dodgers’ combined no hitter as McCabe-Waters was hanging in for dear life.
Pirog induced a two-out walk to put two runners on. When Bashaw drew ball four, the tying run was in the batter’s box with the Astros working hard to get back into the fray.
Zabawa earned ball four in his at-bat, plating Allen, and the RBI tally make it a 7-3 game.
The Dodgers then turned to Paghense to close things out.
He walked Sisson as another RBI tally chopped the deficit to 7-4 – still with the bases juiced.
But Paghense generated the final strikeout of the game as the four pitchers from the Dodgers combined for a one-hitter – advancing Forestville to the championship round that started on Saturday.
“Every one of those pitchers did a great job,” said Roberts. “They all came in and did a tremendous, tremendous job. Hopefully, it continues.”
But the Astros weren’t down and out yet as the squad from McCabe-Waters was looking to knock off the host, the Edgewood A’s, on Wednesday, Aug. 21, to even its record at 1-1 and stay alive in tournament play.
“This is probably the best bunch of kids I’ve ever coached in 20-something years,” said Pirog of his squad. “These kids, they fight hard all the time. They never give up…they’ll get back at it.”