Litchfield edges Bethlehem; faces Waterbury in World Series

Copyright Peter Wallace   Register-Citizen   8/17/2012
It was the kind of game you hope for in a championship.
The Litchfield Cowboys’ Kyle Weaver won the North Division title for the defending Tri-State champions with a two-run double in the seventh inning, 2-1 over the Bethlehem Plowboys, but, before and after, the lead and the plays were sharp and slender as a razor blade. “The pitching on both sides was unbelievable,” said Bethlehem play/coach Tony Geraci, whose team finished the regular season as the North Division’s top seed to Litchfield’s No. 2. “They were sharp, hitting their spots. One hit — and almost one mistake (in the first inning) — made the difference.”
“There was great hitting on both sides,” said Litchfield player/coach Dylan Stiles. “We made the plays when we had to.” That, like the pitching, was true of both sides. Two great pitchers on each side, great defensive plays, clutch hitting. Bethlehem closer Mike Johnston (6 innings, 1 earned run, 3 hits, 1 walk, 1 hit batter) was the game’s first surprise, drawing the start for the Plowboys. In fact, he turned the game backwards, closing out Litchfield’s bats for the first three innings with just one hit and six strikeouts. Meanwhile, Litchfield starter Joey Serafin (7.1 innings, 0 earned runs, 3 hits, 11 strikeouts, 0 walks) came out with his sharpest performance of the playoffs, but ran into bad luck early.
Geraci got to second on a one-out error in the bottom of the first. Serafin notched his first strikeout of the game. Then Pat McGee pounded a ball into the infield grass halfway to third base. The throw to first went wild. Geraci scored. Then McGee raced all the way around third base, heading for home. The throw came in from beyond first base. Litchfield catcher Karl Quist caught McGee in a close play at the plate for the third out. The Plowboys led 1-0 in a game that kept showing it might just end that way.
After the first, Serafin and his defense were almost untouchable for the next six innings. “Joey was the key for us,” said the Cowboys’ Chris Blazek. “After just three days rest, we hoped for five innings. Him getting to the eighth was huge.” “My velocity wasn’t there, so I had to locate better,” said Serafin. “I worked on the inside of the plate. The last two times against them, I was down and away. My control was there and my offspeed was sharp.” Bethlehem’s Tedd Gravel, one of just two Plowboys who didn’t strike out at least once against Serafin (Geraci was the other) had the lone hit against Serafin from the second inning through the sixth. Often, Serafin’s pitching was responsible; sometimes, the Cowboy defense.
Serafin and Cowboy center fielder Ed Pequignot made nice defensive plays in the fifth inning to sit the Plowboys down in three batters. Third baseman Mike Odenwaelder made two great charges on slow grounders in the seventh, same result. In spite of two harmless Plowboy errors in the fifth and sixth innings, Johnston, too, had plenty of support, from his own arm or the Bethlehem defense. Cowboy Adam Claire (2-for-3) got his second hit of the game, leading off the fourth inning. “I saw the ball well today; I just waited for his fastball,” said Claire. Chris Beach added a one-out single moments later. Johnston nailed the next two batters on strikes.
Next inning, a Plowboy error began Litchfield’s half of the fifth; a double play ended it. Odenwaelder (fielder’s choice) got all the way to third in the sixth; Johnston found his ninth strikeout, ending the inning. In the top of the seventh, Litchfield’s Colin Dickinson led off with a full-count walk. Johnston, the closer who’s not used to pitching more than two innings a game, was done after six innings and one batter into the seventh. Jesse Darcy replaced him. Quist sacrificed Dickinson to second. Blazek grounded a base hit up the middle, moving Dickinson to third. Bethlehem center fielder Eric O’Toole prevented Dickinson from scoring on Blazek’s hit with a great throw home. Now, he made a great catch on Ben Murphy’s fly to short center field, then threw home again. This time, the throw sailed high and wide. Darcy was there to catch it behind Bethlehem catcher Geraci, no harm done. That bit of good baseball had the mark of “play-of-the-game” all over it. Except the Cowboys had one more out to go.
Weaver, the longest-tenured Cowboy, with 17 years in, and another University of Vermont athlete, before Blazek and Serafin, currently bats ninth in the Cowboy batting order. “I’m usually bunting in that situation,” he laughed, though fans have seen him rap plenty of key hits from there as well. “I knew I was going for the first pitch. He was pitching inside to me and I managed to get the barrel of the bat on it.” The ball was the perfect gapper, falling between two racing outfielders into deep right center field. Dicksinson and Blazek charged home, 2-1.
Darcy (3 innings, 1 earned run, 2 hits, 4 strikeouts, 0 walks) struck out the final Litchfield batter in the sixth, allowing no hits for the rest of the game, including another great catch by O’Toole in the top of the ninth. Serafin got his 11th strikeout on the eighth inning’s leadoff batter, then gave up a hit to Pat O’Neill. Blazek came on with the game in his hands. “I was just coming in to get the first guy out,” Blazek said. The “first guy” was a strikeout, two outs. Quist threw O’Neill out trying to steal second for the third. Geraci got a one-out single in the bottom of the ninth. Blazek struck out the next two batters in the order. “They’re a classy team,” said Blazek. “They’ve been here before; we’ve been here before.”
The Cowboys meet South Division champion Waterbury Wild at noon Saturday at Fuessenich Park for the start of a best-of-three series for the Tri-State League title.