By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Game number 15 of the schedule for the Bristol Central baseball team saw a familiar face finally take his place in the starting line-up.
Senior shortstop Noah Plantamuro made his 2018 debut for the Rams against Platt from Muzzy Field in Bristol on Wednesday, May 9 and his defense help fuel another one-run effort as Central defeated the Panthers 1-0 – winning its second straight 1-0 game in the process.
And Plantamuro’s defense set the tone of the game from start to finish.
“He’s special,” said Central coach Bunty Ray of the returning Plantamuro. “You saw that play in the first inning. In a one run game, who knows what the outcome was going to be but that was the biggest play of the game [with Plantamuro] diving in the hole, throwing the guy out on a nice scoop by Jake [Santiago at first base]. And it holds up. I think at one point in the sixth, I kind of got a little beside myself [and] I screamed out ‘hey, you might not want to hit it over there [to Plantamuro] because every time they did, it was pretty smooth.”
“It was like he never left.”
On the pitching front, Central’s Alex Balfour went the distance, throwing a six-hit shutout while striking out the final two batters he faced.
While he did hit two batters, Balfour did not allow a walk, challenged Platt offenders from the start and battled his way out of every jam he faced.
“He did a phenomenal job,” said Plantamuro of Balfour. “He pitched strikes, trusted his defense, trusted all of us out there. We really didn’t get the job done on offense but it doesn’t matter when you have a pitcher throwing like that.”
Platt did not have an extra-base hit and neither did Central but the home squad kept the visitors from getting the lead because if the Panthers managed a late lead, super closer Carson Coon was ready to pounce and save the game.
“I knew they had Coon in their back pocket,” said Ray. “You want to stay ahead of them so that’s why we drew the infield in instead of giving them runs.”
The Rams only had four hits in the contest but Peyton Clark’s RBI single in the second inning did the trick.
Austin Brown, Alec DiLoreto, and Jake Santiago also had singles for Central (6-8).
However, the Panthers made some noise early in the contest, seeing leadoff hitter EJ Dudley single on, advance on a balk, and got to third on a groundout.
But it was the first of three consecutive ground ball outs – the final being a sweet, diving stop and throw over to first base by Plantamuro to get the Rams out of the inning unharmed.
Platt’s Jack Clancy just dropped a ball into short centerfield to open the second inning but a 6-4-3 double play ended the rally.
Andrew McCarty then stroked a base hit to right but Joe Salafia flew to center to end the threat.
In the bottom of the second, Santiago zipped a single to right for Central’s first hit of the evening and the only scoring drive of the game was unfolding.
A passed ball got Santiago into scoring position and Clark snuck a single up the middle – plating Santiago – to make it a 1-0 game through two innings of work.
In the third, Platt’s Ricky D’Anielle dropped a base hit into left field and stole second with one out.
Jake Baker grounded out to advance D’Anielle but off a 5-3 putout, the Panthers saw each of its leadoff batters over the first three innings drill singles but none of those runners were able to cross the plate.
Clancy flipped out a one-out single to center in the fourth but that runner did not get into scoring position as another ball hit to Plantamuro was quickly dealt with and Platt left another inning scoreless.
And then it was Central’s turn to lead off with a single as DiLoreto dropped a one-hopper to centerfield to start the bottom of the fourth.
However, the Panthers turned in a 4-6-3 double play as the showdown moved into the fifth inning with the Rams holding on firmly to its 1-0 push.
Salafia led off the fifth stanza getting plunked by a pitch from Balfour as Platt sent seven batters to the plate.
He was sacrificed to second via a bunt from D’Aniello and then Dudley followed suit with his bunt going for a base hit – putting runners on the corners with one out.
Dudley quickly took second to put two runners in scoring position but Baker grounded out to Clark who looked at the runner at third before chucking the ball to first.
Cameron Germe was then hit in the back by a pitch and with two outs, the bases were juiced.
But one final ground ball out ended the fray with the Rams on top, 1-0.
For the game, the Panthers stranded seven runners.
Central’s Joe Maglio earned a four-ball walk with one out in the fifth and Jake Sassu came in to pitch-run.
The Rams did not score in the tilt and Platt was still trailing 1-0 going into the top of the sixth.
Balfour pitched a perfect 1-2-3 sixth as he was cruising on the mound.
“Alex has not been Alex and we’ve been taking him out early in games, he’s had arm problems but after what Steve [Warkoski] did the other day, I think Alex knew it was his turn,” said Ray. “And we need pitching performances. We’re not a great offensive team right now but that’s going to come. But when have an infield playing the way this infield is playing, I’m going to tell you something. You throw the ball down in the zone and they’re beating the ball in. These guys are making plays.”
“That was a great defensive performance.”
And Brown got the Central offense jump started in the sixth with one out.
Brown lofted a single into short left and when he swiped second, another Bristol runner was in scoring position.
DiLoreto then grounded out and Brown moved over to third base but Jaylen Dias flew out to short left as Platt pitcher Edisson Ortiz allowed just one run off of four hits going into the seventh and final frame.
“I have to give their kid credit,” said Ray of Ortiz. “He was tough, throws from a crazy angle, he moves the ball around. I thought he was really good. He really limited us to what we can do.”
Trailing by a run, Platt tried to answer but Salafia grounded out, D’Aniello fanned as did Dudley, giving the Rams win number six – two victories away from state tournament qualification.
“We’re just going to take it one game at a time,” said Ray. “The biggest thing for us right now is getting guys back to their positions. That’s the key so we can get a couple more bats into the lineup. I like to get guys moved back to where they normally play to get some more veterans in there. Although we’re getting them back, you still see the rust there. There are still guys who are in-between.”
But, hey, as along as they’re getting their game reps in, we still have to win a couple games. We’re still in the hunt for some other things too. We’re just going to keep playing.”