By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The last time the Bristol Eastern and Berlin baseball teams squared off, the Lancers certainly got a raw deal from Sage Park on the road.
But this time around in a marquee showdown with the Redcoats at Muzzy Field on Friday, May 10, Eastern was simply not going to be denied in the important rematch.
And in this one, the Lancers dominated from start to finish as Eastern picked up a tournament qualifying 4-0 CCC South victory from Bristol.
Since April 26, the Lancers have won four of five games and crawled over .500 (8-7) for the first time since opening the season 4-3 after a stunning 16-4 victory at Conard on April 19.
In this one, the offense, pitching and defense were all in sync during the fray and that started with winning chucker Dave Levesque.
Levesque, now 4-1 and the leader on the squad in innings pitched with 32.7 on the campaign, went the distance and scattered eight hits in the scoreless affair.
He struck out six, made big pitches, and when the pressure was on, Levesque was on top of his game.
“Dave is very competitive,” said Eastern coach Mike Giovinazzo of Levesque. “When he gets into tough situations, he finds ways to get out of them. You can put a couple runners on in a few situations and that’s where he buckles down and he makes pitches.”
And then there was the offense in which Eastern scooped up eight hits and saw catcher Dave Cugno go 2-for-3 from the plate and tally the biggest hit of the game.
With two on and two out in the second inning, Cugno smashed a double to left-centerfield as Eric Therrien (1-for-2, 2 runs) and Levesque (2-for-3, RBI) crossed home plate to post the Lancers to a 2-0 stake and the squad never looked back.
“Sometimes, you play a hunch,” said Giovinazzo of Cugno. “He’s been struggling a little bit but I decided to leave him in there today. He’s been working hard and it’s nice to see him breakout.”
Lost in the losing effort was a solid appearance by Berlin pitcher Connor Bennett (5-1).
Bennett also threw a complete game while striking out two and was tough to sort out during the middle innings of the game.
But as the contest went on, Eastern’s offense was able to crack things open with additional scoring against the previously unbeaten thrower.
“(He wasn’t) bad at all,” said Giovinazzo of Bennett. “Those kinds of guys are very difficult (to figure out). You don’t see very many pitchers who throw the ball like that so you really have to make some adjustments at the plate (and) we did.”
Berlin stranded nine runners in the contest and tallied two hits apiece in the seconds, fourth, and fifth tilts.
While the Redcoats’ offense couldn’t solve the tricky Levesque, Eastern padded its edge with two huge insurance runs late in the game.
In the fifth stanza, Cugno snuck a single by the third basemen and pinch runner Juan Gonzalez came into the game.
Dave Sills beat out a sacrifice bunt and off an infield hit by Steve Roy (2-for-3), the bases were juiced with only one out.
From there, Diondrey Sapp drove a shot to centerfield that was caught. But the sacrifice fly scored Gonzalez as Eastern’s lead was pushed to 3-0.
In the sixth, Therrien slapped a double to right and Kyle Munette came into pinch run.
Munette quickly stole third and scored off an RBI single by Levesque and, with Berlin down to its final three outs, the Lancers were firmly in control at 4-0.
“Any time you can tack on runs, especially against a good team, it’s always important,” said Giovinazzo. “I was really, really pleased with the offense today.”
Berlin’s offense stalled out in the final inning as Greg Konowski hit into a 4-3 double play and one putout later, Eastern wrapped up an impressive shutout of Berlin and seized state tournament victory number eight.
“You like to use that as a springboard for the rest of the way,” said Giovinazzo about playoff qualifying win number eight. “We know that we’re better than an 8-7 team but we haven’t put it together. Today was about as good as it gets on both sides of the ball.”
By MICHAEL LETENDRE