Sunday August 12: “Best-Of-Three” Division Championship
Bethlehem Plowboys 5 Litchfield Cowboys 3
In a game billed as a pitching and defensive struggle, big hits and errors finally favored the Bethlehem Plowboys, 5-3 over the Litchfield Cowboys, in Game One of the Tri-State Baseball League’s North Division Championship best-of-three series Sunday afternoon at Gallop Field.Bethlehem and Litchfield, the top two seeds in the North Division, achieved much of their success this summer with deep quality pitching and stellar defense. Sunday, two of the league’s best young pitchers took the mound for each side. Bethlehem righthander Jesse Darcy pitched in Tampa Bay’s organization; Litchfield lefthander Joey Serafin was drafted into the White Sox organization. Both look the part. Both pitched stellar games. Nevertheless, in a competitive league like the Tri-State this deep into the playoffs, every edge counts.Darcy (7.1 innings, 2 earned runs, 6 hits, 5 strikeouts, 2 walks, 2 hit batters) gave up a first-inning hit to Litchfield’s Drew Gauvain, then plunked the Cowboys’ second-inning leadoff batter, Colin Dickinson, with a pitch. He struck out the next batter, but two Plowboy errors, one in the infield, one in the outfield, turned a single by Karl Quist (2-for-4, 2 runs scored) into the game’s first run. “Errors are part of the game; I made one myself,” said Darcy. “The important thing is to not let it carry into the next play.” Bethlehem pulled even in the bottom of the inning on a walk and the first two hits off Serafin (7 innings, 4 earned runs, 3 walks) before he zeroed in on his third and fourth strikeouts of 11 for the day. Each side got eight hits in the game. The pitching edge sometimes came in how they got there. “I was ahead (in the count) all day. That makes it a lot easier than when you fall behind,” said Darcy.Tied 1-1 in the bottom of the fourth inning, Plowboy lead-off hitter Matt Parlato (2-for-2, 2 runs scored) worked a 2-1 count from Serafin, then smashed a ground rule double to right center field. “I think it helped that we just faced him two weeks ago (a 4-3 regular-season Plowboy win),” said Parlato. Parlato scored the go-ahead hit on a ground-out and Bethlehem’s fourth hit of the game. Two innings later, Litchfield’s Quist tied the game with a lead-off homer on Darcy’s first pitch of the sixth inning, a bomb into the parking lot beyond the right center field fence. “I felt like my change was not as decent as I would have liked,” said Darcy. “My curve and my fastball were good.” In the bottom of the inning, Parlato and Nick Chiovitti (2-for-4) combined for their second hit apiece. Parlato’s second run came on a throwing error, 3-2.Player/coach Tony Geraci put the game away for good in the seventh inning with a towering two-run homer just over the left field fence after Dan Goscinski led off with a walk. “It was a 2-0 fastball,” said Geraci. “I was just trying to get my bat on it toward right center.” In the eighth, the Cowboys showed how far from over the series is. Caleb Buck lined a one-out single up the middle, bringing on Bethlehem closer Mike Johnston. Kyle Weaver (2-for-4) greeted him with a full-count double. Ed Pequignot followed with an RBI single to center field. Johnston, who holds the saves record for Southern Connecticut State University, struck out the next two Cowboys with Pequignot and Weaver on second and third. “Both teams made a lot of mistakes. We didn’t capitalize on theirs,” said Litchfield player/coach Dylan Stiles. Bethlehem’s Gallop Field is famous for its home field advantages. “The background is tough; it’s all white,” grinned Geraci, looking at the white buildings beyond the outfield. “Everyone’s home field is an advantage for them,” said Litchfield’s Stiles. “That’s why we moved back to Litchfield High School.” That’s where Game Two is, Tuesday at 5:15 p.m.
Waterbury Wild 12 Brass City Brew 2
Ken Kerski and Nick Boucher combined on a three hitter, Manny Cruz and Brad DeVito reached base four times each and Shane Kingsley three times. Andrew Jones singled and scored for the Brew.
Tuesday August 14: Game #2
Litchfield Cowboys 9 Bethlehem Plowboys 5
The Litchfield Cowboys built a seven-run lead, then fought off darkness and a late rally by the Bethlehem Plowboys to even the Tri-State Baseball League’s North Division best-of-three championship series with a 9-5 win at Litchfield High School Tuesday evening.“We’ve been in a hitting drought, but we broke through it,” said Chris Blazek, who drove in three of the Cowboys’ five runs in the first three innings. “Once we start clicking, it’s contagious.” Bethlehem, the division’s number one seed and winner of two previous face-offs (once in the regular season), clicked first. Leadoff hitter Eric O’Toole singled to left in the top of the first inning. Then Cowboy starter Kevin Murray (5.2 innings, 2 earned runs, 8 strikeouts, 5 walks, 3 hit batters) lost a full-count battle with Tony Geraci for a walk. Nick Chiovitti sacrificed them to second and third, one out. Then Litchfield’s lights turned on. Third baseman Mike Odenwaelder sent a grounder home for a fielder’s choice, two outs. First baseman Ben Murphy hustled another grounder to the bag for number three.Murray, recovering from a fever over the weekend, was golden for the next four innings, allowing just one second-inning hit, by Jesse Darcy (2-for-3, run scored). The Cowboys, meanwhile, became a cloudburst ending their drought. Bethlehem starter Tyler Erickson (6 innings, 5 earned runs, 10 hits, 2 strikeouts, 4 hit batters) hit leadoff batter Ed Pequignot (2 runs scored) in the bottom of the first. Adam Claire (2-for-4) and Odenwaelder (2-for-5, 2 RBI), back from a stay with the Torrington Titans, each singled to left, scoring Pequignot, no outs. A pop-up and a potential double play ball might have got Erickson out of the inning one run down. Instead, the grounder turned hot for a second run. Erickson struck out the next batter. Then Blazek(2-for-4) drove a single up the middle for two more runs. Colin Dickinson and Karl Quist added two more Litchfield hits in the bottom of the third inning. Blazek’s long fly-out to center sacrificed Dickinson home from third, 5-0.Kyle Weaver caught the hitting fever in a leadoff double in the bottom of the fourth. A sacrifice bunt by Pequignot and a Bethlehem error brought Weaver home for the Cowboys’ sixth unanswered run, with one more to go in the fifth. Dickinson started the Cowboy fifth getting hit with a pitch. Another hit by Blazek got him to third. Murphy flied out to deep center for the RBI, 7-0. Murray, on Litchfield’s mound, sailed through the first five innings, then lost the breeze. “In the sixth inning, I wasn’t finding my spots, even after a conference on the mound,” he said. An infield error started the sixth-inning troubles. Then, after Murray’s seventh strikeout of the game, Bethlehem’s Darcy (2-for-3) hammered his second hit. Murray walked Rob Geraci, then hit Pat O’Neill and Brad Beachamp, got his final strikeout, then walked Tony Geraci. Lefthander Quinn McKenna came in to relieve, but three Plowboy runs were across, 7-3.Litchfield added a run in the bottom of the sixth on hits by Pequignot and Odenwaelder and a sacrifice fly by Dickinson, then another in the seventh on hits by Murphy and Claire and a final push on a fielder’s choice by Odenwaelder. The gap was 9-3, but the sky was dimming rapidly. Tri-State rules demand a full nine innings for playoff games. “I just tried to keep pitching at a fast pace,” said McKenna (3.1 innings, 1 earned run, 2 hits, 5 strikeouits, 3 walks). It worked great for two innings, then the clock ground to a halt in the top of the ninth. Tony Geraci led off with a hit. After a fielder’s choice and a ground-out, Darcy, Rob Geraci and O’Neill drew walks, good for two runs. The final out came on a strikeout. “We hit the ball; we were aggressive on the base paths; and we scored runs,” beamed Litchfield player/coach Dylan Stiles. The rubber game for the division championship is Thursday, 5:15 p.m., at Bethlehem’s Gallop Field.
Waterbury Wild 6 Brass City Brew 2
Jim Dimon struck out 13 and went the distance and Fraz Kader belted a pair of run-scoring doubles to lead the Waterbury Wild to a 6-2 victory over the Brass City Brew in Game Two of their Tri-State Baseball League South Division Championship series on Tuesday night at Municipal Stadium. The Wild swept the best-of-three-series and now advance to the Tri-State World Series, which starts Saturday at Fuessenich Park in Torrington.Dimon, who threw a no hitter in a playoff game against Watertown on August 6, extended his hitless innings streak to 10 before allowing a bloop single in the second. “Jim threw a great game and this was a crucial win,” Wild coach Larry Devito said. “We get a few days off and can get some rest and set up our pitching. We’ve been getting good pitching all season and Jim gave us another strong start tonight.” Dimon was in control most of the game, mixing in a good slider with his fastball. Of Dimon’s 12 strikeouts, seven came looking as he continuously had the Brew guessing at the plate. “I was just trying to get ahead using more than one pitch,” Dimon said. “Christian (Cuevas) called a great game and we were able to work the fastball in and come back with a slide on the inner half of the plate and it was working for us.”The Wild wasted no time staking Dimon to a lead as they scored a run in both the first and second innings. Manny Cruz led off the game with a single and scored in the first on a sacrifice fly by Jack Dibiase. Kader drove in his first run of the game in the second with an RBI double to score Christian Cuevas who led off the inning with a single. After allowing the early runs, Brew starter Gary Novakowski settled in and kept the Wild off the scoreboard until the sixth when Cuevas laid down a bunt to plate Brad Devito from third and make it 3-0. The Brew cut the deficit to 3-2 with a run in the seventh and another in the eighth, both set up by errors. The Brew looked poised to tie things up or even take the lead in the eighth with runners on first and second with one out and a run in but Dimon got a shallow fly out to center and a strikeout to end the threat. “I felt good today,” Dimon said. “I felt good the whole time, maybe a little tired the last couple innings, but I was able to battle through it. This time in the summer, with the heat, I usually feel pretty good and it’s the same this time. I feel good with my fastball and other pitches are working and it’s a good time for it to come out, playoff time.”
The Wild then essentially put the game away in the top of the ninth with three runs to take a 6-2 lead. Kader provided the big blow, ripping a two-run double into the corner in left. “I had been in a slump for four or five games,” Kader said. “I was either walking or striking out and that’s a sign of not being aggressive. Both of my hits came on the first pitch tonight and I told myself to be aggressive at the plate and I was able to do that and have some success.”
PREVIEWS (Copyright Peter Wallace and John Nestor Register-Citizen 8/12/12)
Litchfield Cowboys vs Bethlehem Plowboys
Tri-State Baseball League charter members Litchfield and Bethlehem start Game One of their best-of-three series for the league’s North Division Championship at 11 a.m. at Bethlehem’s Gallop Field. Three former MLB-affiliated pitchers add spice to lineups that revel in the pride of being defending league champions for the last two years.
Litchfield won it last year, thanks in part to the return of lefthander Chris Blazek, who spent six years in the Houston Astros organization. This year, the Cowboys added lefthander Joey Serafin, released last spring from the White Sox organization.
Bethlehem won the league title in 2010, its sixth championship since 1998 (1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2010). This year, Jesse Darcy, Class A Pitcher of the Year for the Tampa Bay Rays not long ago, joined the staff.
Those are some of the eye-poppers for the team’s resume, but the pride and intensity that goes with being a Cowboy or a Plowboy is written in their play, not on paper. “I’ve only played on the team for two years,” said the Cowboys’ Blazek. “But you’re playing for the name on the front (of your shirt). Almost everyone here played for Litchfield or Wamogo.” Plowboy player/coach Tony Geraci focuses the same feelings on the team itself. Just one player, Matt Parlatto, is from Bethlehem. The rest are either from a Plowboy recruiting territory that includes Thomaston and Woodbury or grandfathered in on a league rule allowing four non-resident players, then changing the status to resident after five years with the same team. Geraci, from Waterbury, is a baseball citizen of Bethlehem. “I got out of college and thought the way we played there was good enough,” said Geraci, who joined the Plowboys in 2005. “But there’s a Plowboy way to play baseball — always hustling on and off the field.”
Kyle Weaver is the Cowboys’ longest-term veteran — 17 years. His view mirrors Geraci’s. “We like playing teams that play this game the right way,” said Weaver. The steady influx of new teams and new talent into the league holds everyone’s standards sky-high. “We have a lot of young guys pitching,” said Blazek, who adds Kevin Murray, Quinn McKenna and Kyle Hawes to the names on the Cowboys’ deep stable. Geraci matches him at Bethlehem with names like Jason Krajeski, Darcy and Mike Johnston. “(Krajeski) goes nine innings every time,” said Geraci. “He threw 200 pitches against Tri-Town.” Johnston saved a school-record 18 games for Southern Connecticut State University as a senior last year. Both teams feature deep pitching and solid defense.
“Blazek closing for us is one of our keys,” said Chris Beach, another Cowboy veteran (14 years).
Beach adds power and stability to the Cowboy lineup, but points to the youth as Litchfield’s turning point toward last year’s title, the first since 1979. “Speed and agility,” Beach says, listing Ed Pequignot, Adam Claire, Colin Dickinson, Drew Gauvain and Karl Quist among the young Cowboys who bring it. Geraci’s Bethlehem counterparts for youthful speed include Teddy Gravel, Pat O’Neill and Nick Chiovitti, along with veteran Eric O’Toole, but he also marks this year’s return to glory by the return of slugger Jon Conlon from his second tour in Afghanistan as a Marine. “This year, Jon had six home runs. He’s made a huge difference in the middle of the lineup,” Geraci said. “Last year, we were 8-8 without him.”
The final stitch in today’s quality baseball quilt is the threads that cross back and forth from high school coaching. Weaver is Litchfield High School’s baseball coach and athletic director. Geraci assists former Plowboy Bob McMahon on Thomaston High School’s baseball team. O’Toole and Plowboy Dan Goscinski assist former Plowboy Jason Harlow with Litchfield’s boys basketball team. Gregg Hunt, Wamogo’s baseball coach and former Torrington Twister and Titan coach, led the Plowboys in the ‘80s. “He still comes to see our games,” said Geraci. “The Plowboy way started with him.” Such rich legacies only add to the quality baseball you can see at Gallop Field, 11 a.m. this morning.
Waterbury Wild vs Brass City Brew
Manny Cruz went the distance, striking out 10 to pick up the win over Watertown and send the Wild into the South Division Championship Series against the Brass City Brew. Game One is set for Sunday at 6 p.m. at Feussenich Park.
“It should be a good series, we only played them once this season, but it is the two Waterbury teams and all the guys know each other,” Wild coach Larry Devito said. “They have some good pitching and are tough through the middle of the order but our pitching is set up, so we’ll take our chances.” The pitching was set up for the Wild on Saturday as well as Cruz was in control for most of the game. “The lead was nice and whenever you can put a run on the board as the first batter, that’s a good thing,” Cruz said. “Once we got the lead I just wanted to hit my spots and make good pitches. I was just pitching for outs, throwing strikes and not trying to strike everyone out, let my defense make some plays,” Cruz said. “My curveball wasn’t breaking as much as usual, but I was able to spot my fastball and my change-up had good movement today.” “Manny did a heck of a job for us today, he’s been All-State for three years in high school and he’s our number three pitcher,” Devito said. “We jumped out to an early lead and Manny did a great job of not letting them back in it.”
Jim Dimon and Ken Kerski hold down the two top spots in Waterbury’s rotation. Nick Boucher provides relief duty.
Brass City counters with Gunnery star Kellen Croce, former minor leaguer Gary Novakowski, Mike Padovani, Tyler King, and Eric Gormley at the top of their pitching chart.
Iron Man Jay Spears
Jay Spears was pitching his third game of the series and was running mainly on guts and guile, he resorted to mainly breaking pitches as the game wore on but ran out of gas as did Watertown. Spears was the tough-luck loser in Game One, a 2-0 Waterbury win, and rebounded with a three-hitter with 12 strikeouts to lead Watertown to a 3-2 win in Game Two and force Saturday’s decider. “I give him a lot of credit, going out there on just a couple days rest and pitching all three games,” Devito said. “We saw him three times in a row and it is tough to come back on that short rest like Jay did. Our guys were ready today.” Jay Spear also took over head coaching duties for a Watertown team that incurred a high roster turnover with several new faces on the team. Watertown welcomes many new faces again next year as the majority of the Oakville Legion team that won their division ‘graduates’ and moves on to the next level in the Tri-State League.