By KEN MORSE
The Bristol Blues returned home last Thursday ready to make a second half run at the playoffs and entertained the home crowd with a 6-4 come from behind win over the North Shore Navigators.
It was the first home game in 12 days following the All-Star break and the Blues showed the kind of tenacity that it takes for a team in the playoff hunt. The game was a back and forth affair that featured five lead changes and in the end it was lights out closer Neal McDermott settling the matter picking up his league leading 13th save.
“It’s a great feeling to have the trust of the coaching staff putting me out there with the game on the line,” said McDermott. “I know my teammates are behind me and they will get us the runs we need to be successful.”
“This is such an awesome atmosphere to compete in. Being at home in front of this crowd in this ballpark it really gives you a boost of adrenalin.”
Through 20 innings this season McDermott has allowed just 8 hits and struck out 41compiling a stingy 1.32 ERA.
“There is no question about it, Neal has been there for us all summer,” said Blues head coach Ronnie Palmer. “We have a tremendous amount of confidence in him when he is out there.”
The Blues got a strong outing from Adam Riggleman (4 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 5 K’s) making his first start of the season. Casey Elbin, Justin Rouse and Kyle Haag worked four innings in relief before the Blues handed the game over to McDermott who slammed the door shut striking out two in the ninth.
“Adam just joined us about a week and a half ago,” said Palmer. “This was his first start for us and we kept him at about 80 pitches. He has a lot of poise and his demeanor on the mound is really solid. We are hoping he can give us some quality starts down the stretch.”
It took the Bristol bats a few turns at the plate before they got it going. Two runners were thrown out on the base paths and the Blues failed to capitalize on a bases loaded one out scenario in the third inning.
But they more than made up for it staging two out rallies in three straight innings and plating an insurance run with two outs in the eighth. Bristol tallied runs in four consecutive innings and collected 11 hits with Teddy Hague, Dylan Reynolds, Alex Loparco, and Andrew Hague coming through with RBI doubles and Peyton Stephens unloading an RBI triple.
“It was exciting to be back home and we had a nice crowd on hand,” said Palmer. “The boys played well tonight and we came through with a couple of key two out hits when we had to. How we ran the bases is how we want to play being aggressive on the base paths.”
Trailing 1-0 the Blues scored twice in the fifth with two outs. Ian Ostberg got it started drawing a walk. Loparco and Reynolds followed with back-to-back run scoring doubles.
The Navigators tied it in the sixth after a lead-off triple from J.P. Knight and a wild pitch made it a 2-2 game. But the Blues were not to be denied on this night and they went out and proved it the next at bat.
Ethan Hunt thought he had drawn ball four twice but didn’t get the call. The determined Hunt reached base anyway after striking out but a dropped third strike saw him beat the throw down to first.
A wild pitch sent Hunt to second and another wild pitch took an unusual high bounce over the head of the catcher to the backstop and Hunt came all the way around to score the go-ahead run.
“In that situation, I was just trying to bring us a little bit of energy by doing what ever I could to score a run,” said Hunt. “I saw the opportunity and I just took advantage of it. Any win at this point in the season is huge and to do it in front of the home crowd just makes it that more special.”
“It’s a grind heading into the second half but if we bring our best baseball to the park every day we have an opportunity to bring home a ring at the end of the summer.”
The pesky Navigators just wouldn’t go away as a two-run outburst in the seventh handed them a 4-3 lead on one out bases loaded two-run single from George Sutherland.
The Blues were not taking no for an answer and for the third straight inning with two outs a rally materialized. Richard Brererton hit a two out single down the line in left to get it going.
Teddy Hague sent in the run on a double down the line in right and Stephens unloaded on a pitch that found the gap for a run scoring triple and a 5-4 Bristol lead. The Blues tacked on an insurance run with Andrew Hague hitting a double and scoring on consecutive wild pitches to make it 6-4.
“This is a good group of guys,” added Palmer. “They have been really focused as of late winning seven of the last 10 and coming to the ball park playing the game the right way. If we give that kind of effort every game, we will continue to compete.”
The Blues return home to Muzzy Field this week for a three game home stand starting Tuesday for a 7 p.m. start against the Brockton Rox, an 11 a.m. contest on Wednesday taking on the Pittsfield Suns and on Friday at 7 p.m. hosting the Rox.