Bethlehem draws first versus Tri-Town

The Bethlehem Plowboys beat the Tri-Town Trojans 5-3 Saturday afternoon in the first game of a best-of-three championship series for the Tri-State Baseball League title. Strong pitching and hitting carried the teams through a double-elimination gauntlet of 12 qualifying teams from the 18-team league. So Saturday, with those assets on display, the score was both higher and lower than seemed appropriate. “Our pitchers kept us in it the whole game, but it came down to leaving guys on base,” said Tri-Town coach Ryan McDonald. “My hat’s off to (Bethlehem complete-game pitcher) Tyler Erickson.”
Erickson (3 earned runs, 7 hits, 15 strikeouts, 1 walk, 1 hit batter) went all nine innings for the Plowboys; McDonald used a three-man committee — Jason Patrick (2.1 innings, 3 earned runs, 4 hits, 2 strikeouts, 1 walk), Andy Dooley (3 innings, 1 earned run, 2 hits, 2 strikeouts, 3 walks) and John Conley (2.2 innings, 0 runs, 2 hits, 0 strikeouts, 1 walk). The results, where they counted the most, were very nearly the same (8-7 hitting advantage for Bethlehem; 10 Plowboys left on base, 9 Trojans). So, on the one hand, the game was full of “the right pitch at the right time;” on the other, Bethlehem got the right hit at the right time just two more times than the Trojans. Erickson has all four wins, three as a starter and one in relief. Overall this year Bethlehem is 22-4.
Tri-Town left the bases loaded twice, in the third and fifth; the Plowboys did it once, in the third, in perhaps the best escape job of the day, from Tri-Town’s Andy Dooley. In the end, it came down to those two extra timely hits, by Nick Chiovitti (2-for-4, 2 RBI, run scored) and Aaron Granahan (2-for-4, double, 2 RBI), plus, perhaps, the intangible magic of championship experience. “We have a good mix of veterans and young players,” said Granihan, who’s in a middle territory, seven years with the team. “We have young guys here a couple of years; then, each year, we lose a couple of guys and new guys just step in,” said player/coach Tony Geraci, with the team five years.
Bethlehem, one of the original Tri-State teams (1935), has played in four championship series in the past five years. This is the first one ever for Tri-Town, established in 2005. Maybe it was experience that put the Plowboys on the board in the bottom of the first. Eric O’Toole led off with a walk, reached second on a ground-out and scored on a double to right center by Granahan. On the other hand, winning pitcher Erickson headed back to college (Division III LaSales University) right after the game. He’ll be a junior. Maybe it’s just talent. Both teams have that.
Tri-Town established itself in the top of the third, with a leadoff single by Joe Bunnell, sacrifice bunt by Landon Gardella (2-for-3, double, RBI) and RBI single from Jon Smart. Plowboys pushed experience in the bottom of the inning, leadoff singles from Dan Goscinski (run scored), O’Toole and Chiovitti (RBI), no outs. With one more Plowboy run already across, Dooley came in to pitch; he walked the bases full, then got a nice play by Steve Price at third for a fielder’s choice at home. Plowboy Dave Green hit an RBI single, but a short fly to left and a ground-out to third held the damage down to a minimum, 3-1. The Trojans chipped away with a run in each of the next two innings.
Kyle Osolin (2-for-4, RBI, run scored) and Gardella (RBI) had the key hits in the fourth inning.
In the fifth, Casey McDonald, hit by a pitch with one out, got home on hits by Price and Osolin, 3-3. Dooley walked Bethlehem veteran Bob McMahon to start the bottom of the sixth; Rob Geraci singled to left; Goscinski bunted them over to second and third, one out. One more talented young pitcher, John Conley, came in for Tri-Town. Experienced runners for Bethlehem watched his warm-ups. Conley got an infield pop-up for the second out. Chiovitti chopped a single down the third base line for one run; Granahan burned a grounder up the middle for the second.
Talent or experience? This time, both. Today, the Trojans pit their considerable talents again against the Plowboys again, 1 p.m., at Fuessenich Park. If the weather holds out, Tri-Town ace Miles Scribner faces Bethlehem ace Jason Krajeski.Talent and experience on both sides guarantee another riveting game