By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The Bristol Eastern baseball team, the top-ranked squad in all of Class L play, was trailing by a single run going into the bottom inning against No. 9 Bunnell from a quarterfinal tilt on Friday, June 5.
With the deficit at 3-2, the Lancers were down to its final three outs of the season and needed at least one run to keep the campaign alive and force extra innings.
And Eastern gave it one heck of an effort to get that game-tying run on the scoreboard.
It all started with one out in the seventh and the top of the order coming to the plate for the Lancers.
In terms of match-ups, it was the exact position Eastern wanted to be in.
Jake Colello started the rally with a single to right and when Jordan Lowery (1-for-2, run, two walks) drew a base-on-balls, both the game tying and game-winning runs were onboard.
Starting Bunnell pitcher Justin Lasko needed a couple big outs to end the game and with runners on first and second with one out, the pressure was certainly on the chucker.
And Lasko came through as Lebron grounded out – advancing Colello and Lowery to third and second base, respectively – and both runners were in scoring position.
But Lasko got Adrian James on a check swing, third strike, as the Bulldogs advanced to the semifinal round with the 3-2 win over the Lancers from Muzzy Field in Bristol.
“We didn’t give them [Bunnell] anything, they earned everything,” said Eastern coach Mike Giovinazzo. “When you give away a game, that’s one thing but when the other team beats you, you tip your cap and you say good luck in the next round.”
Eastern ended the season at an impressive 19-4 ledger overall while Bunnell (20-6) moved on to square off against No. 13 East Lyme in a semifinal challenge from Palmer Field in Middletown on June 9.
Lasko was the man of the hour, allowing two runs off six hits while striking out 11 over the complete game performance.
And he had to battle because in every inning except the sixth, the Lancers had runners on base and put pressure on the All-State pitcher from start to finish.
He walked four batters – none of whom scored in the contest – as Lasko ducked a couple serious challenges throughout the game.
Eastern started Bryce Lebron (3. 1 IP, 4 hits, 1 K, 3 BB) and the lefty hung in there until falling apart a bit in the fourth.
Ace starter Nate Carney – coming out of the bullpen – filled in from there, but the first two batters he faced drove in all the runs for Bunnell in the game.
Bunnell’s Eric DiCicco started the top of the fourth off with a one-out double to center while Zach Piroh and William Chonka each drew walks and the bases were quickly loaded.
Carney came in from there and Nicholas Giannoni greeted him by dropping a 0-1 pitch into deep right field as his double plated two runs and the1-0 deficit turned into a 2-1 lead for the visitors.
And the game winning run was tallied by Joe Catapano as his sacrifice fly plated Chonka as the Bulldogs captured a 3-1 edge midway through the fourth.
“Nate throws strikes. Sometimes, guys square him up. Sometimes, they don’t,” said Giovinazzo of Carney. “In that particular case, there was no question Bryce was coming out. He was losing it, he couldn’t get his breaking ball over the plate. He pretty much lost all his pop in his fastball.”
“When you have a horse like Carney, you’ve got to ride him.”
But off that double by Giannoni, Carney retired 10 of final12 batters he faced to end the contest as Bunnell could not generate any additional offense.
“After that inning, Carney mowed them down,” said Giovinazzo. “He gave us a chance and that’s all I could ask.”
But Eastern drew first blood in the contest and went ahead 1-0 with a run in the second frame.
Tommy Curtin opened the tilt with a single to left to start the inning, eventually stole second while Joe Pastyrnak walked to put two on with two outs.
Curtin scored when Austin Dias dropped a two-hopper into right field as Eastern zipped up a 1-0 lead after two innings of action.
Once Bunnell captured that 3-1 lead, Lasko collected eight strikeouts from the fourth inning on but Eastern continued to knock on the door.
And that door was answered in the fifth.
With one out, Lowery beat out a bunt hit and off a grounder from Lebron, the runner moved to second base and Eastern had a man in scoring position.
From there, James launched a single to center – plating Lowery – as Eastern cut the deficit to 3-2 after five completed stanzas.
Lasko struck out the side in the sixth and in the seventh, Eastern put Colello and Lowery on to get the winning run on.
But in the end, the Bunnell pitcher made the final out of the afternoon with the strikeout on James – leading Bunnell to a huge 3-2 victory.
“They never gave up all year,” said Giovinazzo of his squad. “To have the winning run at second base with your clean-up hitter up, you can’t ask for more.”
This was the final game for the Eastern seniors and captains Jake Colello, Tom Curtin, Bryce Lebron, and Jordan Lowrey – the four captains on the squad along with Jesse Caron, Austin Dias, Joe Dorsio, Jacob Dubrosky, Joey Pastyrnak and “Big” Pete Roche.
By MICHAEL LETENDRE