By MICHAEL LETENDRE
FARMINGTON – On Friday, July 27, the rubber match between the Bristol and the RCP baseball programs determined who would move on to the 2018 Connecticut American Legion Senior Super Regional from Muzzy Field in Bristol.
Both teams split their games in tournament play but this time around, RCP pieced together three scoring drives in the first, fourth, and sixth frames as Bristol fell 4-0 – ending its season from its home-away-from-home at Tunxis Mead Park in Farmington.
Post 2 was held to one hit as RCP was seemingly in every position when Bristol hit the ball that day.
“You’re not going to win too many games with one hit,” said Bristol coach Jerry LaPenta. “I mean, I thought we had some good at-bats. I think there were four line-outs, right at guys. [We] hit the ball hard.”
RCP pitcher Jared Valentin was sensational, allowing the one hit and very little of anything else.
He handed out just two base-on-balls, struck out three while letting his defense do the rest of the work.
In reality, due to the pitch count rules, Valentin was allowed to pitch only because of the extra day of rest due to Thursday’s game two rainout.
To open the week on Sunday, July 22, Valentin threw a two-run, five-hitter but RCP fell 2-1 to Bristol – falling into the loser’s bracket of the pod.
“That kid throws strikes, he works quickly,” said LaPenta of Valentin. “We knew what we were going to face from the game at Muzzy [the previous Sunday]. So I knew it was going to be a close game.”
Bristol went down in order to open the first frame – as the visiting team at the venue – while RCP strode up a 1-0 edge through one.
With one out, RCP’s Noah Budzik and Nick Polizonis both singled to get on and then Zach Lombardo unleashed a bunt short of third base that Bristol’s Mac Goulet wasn’t going to be able to make a play on.
The bases were loaded for Brett Thivierge and he lofted a fly ball to right field for the second out of the inning but Budzik scored from third as RCP drove up a 1-0 lead.
Knox later picked up a huge strikeout on Austin Roy as Bristol sidestepped a huge jam to trail by only a run.
In the second frame, Cory Fradette out-ran a base hit to deep shortstop – the only hit for Bristol in the showdown – but was tagged out via a fielder’s choice by Violette.
In the end, a ground-out from Steve Warkoski ended the inning with RCP still ahead 1-0.
Bristol’s Anthony Lozier walked with two gone in the third but Jeremy Ganavage sent a grounder to third for the final out and Post 105 was still in charge by a run.
Budzik walked in the bottom of the third but a huge inning-ending double-play, spread-headed by Goulet at third — got Bristol into the fourth still down 1-0.
In the bottom of the fourth, Zach Lombardo battled back from a 0-2 deficit to draw a walk, leading off the inning, and stole second to get into scoring position.
Brett Thivierge bunted the lead runner to third and then Roy slipped in a blooper to center to score Lombardo as RCP went ahead 2-0.
“Their first run was on a sacrifice fly,” said LaPenta of RCP. “The second run was a base hit and the kid [Roy] fouled off a bunch of pitches and Kenny just kind of hung a curveball there.”
Al Hinkie then dug himself out of hole to earn a base-on-balls as two were on with two outs.
But Ty Baldwin grounded out to second to end the fourth as Bristol was trying to make up the two-run deficit.
Post 2 was retired in order in the top of the fifth as Bristol was down to its final six outs of the season.
Zach Marquis took the mound for Bristol in the bottom of the fifth and with one out, Budzic was plunked by a pitch and RCP had something going again.
An error by Goulet on a Polizonis grounder put two on but another timely double-play, of the 6-4-3 variety, got Post 2 out of the mess and back at the plate.
Valentin retired nine in a row before walking Ganavage as the tying runner, Goulet, was at the plate with batters four and five due up.
But Goulet grounded out as luck was not with the Post 2 squad that day.
Brett Thivierge started the bottom portion of the sixth out-running a pop-up to second base as RCP was at it again.
Thivierge then attempted to take second base as a Bristol player was not at the bag to tag the runner out and the error allowed the Thivierge to take third with no one out.
Marquis struck out Roy while Roland Thivierge walked and eventually took second — putting two runners in scoring position.
Hinkie then sent a grounder to second that was misplayed as two runners scored and quickly, the game became a 4-0 contest and RCP was in control.
“The runs at the end, kind of didn’t give us any hope,” said LaPenta. “Cory [Fradette] will make that play most times. If he just goes to a knee, the kid isn’t going home any ways.”
But Bristol couldn’t ever put a dent on the scoreboard over the seventh and final inning as RCP zipped up another shutout win, taking the game 4-0, and returning to Muzzy Field to compete in the Connecticut Super Regional.
“Like I said, one hit isn’t going to get it done,” said LaPenta of the final game of the season.
Bristol ended the year with a 20-7-1 record but simply couldn’t get a stranglehold of two-out-of-three postseasons contests versus RCP.
“We didn’t get any breaks,” said LaPenta. “We hit the ball hard, had some good at-bats but didn’t get anything to fall in.”