BRISTOL – Needing one final victory to qualify for postseason play, the Bristol Eastern High School baseball team hopped on the back of star pitcher Jagger Duquette and – off a brilliant five-run fourth inning – the Lancers defeated Bristol Central by a 6-2 final on Tuesday, May 21 from Muzzy Field in Bristol.
Trailing by two, the Lancers scored those five runs to seize the lead for good, giving Duquette (5-2) all the room he needed to operate.
“I was really hoping that we would come out with that same energy as we did against Plainville,” said Duquette. “We did [and] I’m happy about the outcome.”
Duquette went all seven innings, allowing just two runs off five hits.
And once Eastern nabbed a 5-2 edge, that tally was nearly impossible to make up against the talented senior chucker.
“Once Jagger gets a lead, you can see him getting amped up out there,” said Eastern coach Mike Giovinazzo. “His whole game just changes and the team is obviously going to rally behind him, which we did. We played outstanding defense after a little bit of a hiccup in the early innings but once [Jagger] gets a lead, I’m pretty confident.”
Ian Latko led Eastern by going 2-for-2 at the plate with a walk, a double, and two RBI while Anthony Marrotti turned in a single for two RBI.
Andrew Lozier singled, walked and scored twice, Jack Kozikowski doubled, scored a run and laid down a sacrifice while Noah Hickey (double, run, RBI) and Matt D’Amato (sacrifice fly) produced runs and Carson Sassu and James Dauphinee each walked to pace the offense.
Central’s Jake Santiago (2-for-4) slapped out a two-RBI double to lead Central – part of a five hit attack by the Rams.
Austin Brown (run), Jaylen Dias, and Nick Ruffino all had hits for Central.
The Rams’ Gavin Greger started off strongly on the mound, allowing just one hit over his first three innings before the fourth frame knocked the promising youngster out of the game.
He allowed five runs off six hits while striking out four and walking two in a tough losing effort.
The umpires, also officiating a Naugatuck Valley League Tournament game in Wolcott earlier in the day, were a bit late so the contest was delayed nearly 24 minutes.
When the contest finally commenced, Sassu opened things up by battling back from a 0-2 count to walk but was erased by a 6-4-3 double play.
Greger then fanned Jack Kozikowski and quickly, Duquette was on the mound for the Lancers.
With two gone in the frame, Santiago bounced a ball off Duquette that slowly rolled towards D’Amato at the second base position for an infield hit.
But Jay Dias flew out to right to end the first inning as the teams moved into the second with no score.
Greger then retired Eastern in order in the second tilt while Duquette did the same – collecting three strikeouts through two completed innings.
Central’s Peyton Clark then recovered his own gaffes off a grounder by James Dauphinee and somehow chucked the ball to first, and off a great catch by first basemen Ryan Rodriguez, the runner was called out.
Giovinazzo ran over to protest and eventually, Dauphinee returned to first base before the umpires met and eventually called the Eastern player out.
But Latko broke the Lancers’ hitless streak by sending a hot shot up the middle for a base hit.
Sassu later popped up to end the inning without the benefit of a score.
With one gone in the third, Ruffino drained a hit just passed Sassu at shortstop, Central had its second hit of the evening and was setting the table for itself.
And Brown just snapped a slow roller that D’Amato just couldn’t scoop up in time as two runners were on off the infield hit.
One batter later, Santiago sent a screamer to left field – clearing the bases – as the double made it a 2-0 game in Central’s favor.
A walk to Dias put two on with two outs; but Sassu made a diving catch on a pop-up by Greger to end the inning and limit the Rams to just two runs.
And Central never again scored in the contest.
“You know you’re not going to get a whole lot of runs off of Jagger,” said Central coach Bunty Ray. “When you put up two [runs], you’ve got to go out there in the next inning, make sure that you put them down and the pressure is on them a little bit. When [Eastern] was able to come out and not only tie the game but grab the lead, it becomes real difficult when you have a veteran pitcher that goes out there and does his job like Jagger does.”
“I think he’s an outstanding talent, not just because of the way he pitches, but the way he kind of commands the zone, the way he shakes off mistakes.”
Lozier opened the fourth with a single to right-center field and Kozikowski dropped a shot to right for an extra-base hit as the Lancers quickly had runners on second and third via the double.
And Marrotti made it a brand new game as his single to short right-center plated Lozier and Kozikowski – tying things up at 2-2.
Hickey then dropped a single into left-center and with just one out, men were on first and second.
Dauphinee later earned a hard-fought walk and the bases were juiced for D’Amato.
He skied a sacrifice fly to right for an out as Marrotti charged home to score the go-ahead run, making it a 3-2 game in Eastern’s favor.
Then with two runners in scoring position, Latko laced a bomb over the head of the Central centerfielder as Hickey and Dauphinee crossed the plate, making it a 5-2 contest and ending Greger’s evening.
“He just didn’t have his great stuff,” said Ray of his starting pitcher. “He was out there with maybe one pitch, one-and-a-half pitches. He couldn’t throw his other breaking stuff for strikes. When he got behind, it became real tough. Control was definitely an issue today and he’s a young kid. He got a little juiced up. That’s something fixable for him [and] I know he’s going to get better.”
“It’s just a veteran team that got some hits against a young kid.”
Central’s Alec DiLoreto earned a full count walk to start the bottom of the fourth and a groundout to first by Rodriguez advanced him to second.
And Clark sent a ground ball to Sassu who made a nice throw to first base but the catch was not made and off the error, runners were on the corners.
However, the next two batters were retired and Eastern’s three-run cushion remained intact.
Lozier walked to start the fifth inning, was then sacrificed over by Kozikowski and sent to third on Nate Ouellette’s groundout.
Marrotti drew a base-on-balls to put men on first and third while Hickey sent a long shot to centerfield.
The fielder misjudged the hit, going backwards before sprinting towards the ball, slipping as the ball fell in cleanly.
Lozier scored off the play to make it 6-2 but Marrotti was tagged out at the plate to keep a seventh run from scoring in what turned into a four run cushion for the Lancers.
“That was our problem during the losing streak,” said Giovinazzo. “Every time we had a chance to do something like that, we didn’t capitalize. But today we did it. Actually, all week we did, [helping us] win three out of our last four [games].”
Dias dropped in a base hit, slipping it right by the third base bag with two gone in the fifth as Warren Hamilton came into pinch run but nothing came of it.
In the top of the sixth, D’Amato’s grounder was booted while Latko walked to put two on with one out.
But two putouts ended the threat with Central still down by four on the scoreboard.
Eastern looked like it was going for a 1-2-3 inning in the sixth but a dropped ball in centerfield with two outs allowed Clark to reach base safely as Dylan Hudson came in to run the bases.
But Ruffino was retired as the game moved into the final frame with Eastern on top by a 6-2 push.
“They made a few mistakes behind” Jagger said Ray. “You don’t ever see him not do his job. I’ve been very impressed by Duquette. It’s been good to see him pitch but I’m glad he’s gone.”
Dylan Woodsome lined out to start the seventh inning as Eastern was eventually sent down in order but the Rams had a monumental task of generating four runs off Duquette in the bottom of the final stanza.
But it was for not as Eastern closed out the game, punching its state tournament ticket in the process with a 6-2 win over Central – splitting its season series with the Rams this year, 1-1.
“It feels fantastic,” said Duquette about Eastern qualifying for the state tournament. “I’m not going to lie. Midway through the season, I didn’t think it was coming but now that we’re here, it feels great.”
Giovinazzo also agreed.
“We’re going to have a good pitcher on the mound from day one and I’m very confident in our guys that they’ll present themselves as best as possible,” said Giovinazzo of his teaming the upcoming state tournament.
NOTES…It was senior night and several players from each team were playing in their final scholastic home games (or in Central’s case, the final BC/BE game).
Carson Sassu, Ian Latko, Ethan Ryan, Jagger Duquette, Noah Hickey, Trevor Mays, Alex Valley, and James Dauphinee all played in their final regular season game for the Lancers.
Warren Hamilton, Ryan Rodriguez, Jake Sassu, Howard Rebhun, Peyton Clark, Alec DiLoreto, and Jaylen Dias were the senior core for Central this year and were honored as well.
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