Copyright Peter Wallace/Rick Wilson Register-Citizen/Republican-American
Bob McMahon and Kevin Pettit stood off to the side a bit and took it all in like proud parents instead of ecstatic kids. For 22 years, the two have worn their Bethlehem Plowboys gear with style, and while still playing and contributing, part of the fun now is watching what they have helped nurture. So a big part of the fun Wednesday night at Fuessenich Park was experiencing one more title with a new group and feeling that titles never get old, only better, as the faces change.
Some of the Plowboy youth is well-known to area fans – former Holy Cross star Nick Chiovitti who led the Crusaders to a state title game; Eric O’Toole of Sacred Heart and Aaron Granahan of Thomaston. All in their 20’s and ready to roll for Bethlehem. League Commissioner Ed Gadomski was on hand to wax poetic behind the PA system announcing the game. People heard Gadomski, but what they couldn’t see was the commish’s pride for a worthy championship ending to a superb season.
The Plowboys rode an outstanding pitching effort from Jason Krajeski and a seventh-inning home run from Tony Geraci to a 2-1 win over Tri-Town to capture another Tri-State League championship, two games to none, and left both teams and the league proud of the game. Bethlehem (23-4) has been in the championship round 12 times in 15 years, winning six times, the last crown in 2005 and fourth championship of the century. This season, the Plowboys finished with a 15-game win streak in league play.
“It was a great series,” said Tri-Town coach Ryan McDonald, whose 5th-seeded Trojans (in a playoff field of 12 from the 18-team league) came from behind late in a 2-1 win a week ago to get here. “Every single play counted,” said McDonald, recalling two clutch hits that won the first game 5-3 for the Plowboys last Saturday in the best-of-three championship series. In Wednesday’s standoff, every play counted; so did every pitch between two of the league’s finest young aces, Bethlehem’s Jason Krajeski (9 innings, 1 earned run, 4 hits, 7 strikeouts, 3 walks) and Tri-Town’s Miles Scribner (9 innings, 1 earned run, 6 hits, 11 strikeouts, 0 walks). In a game with just 4 total errors (3-1 Bethlehem) and 10 total hits (6-4 Bethlehem), one Tri-Town error and a high inside fastball to Plowboy player/coach Tony Geraci (2-for-4, home run) were the two flashes in time that won this game, while the Trojan run also had help from an error.
“Jay (Krajeski) doesn’t have very much room for error,” said Geraci, looking back on a season in which the No. 1 playoff seed (23-4) had just enough runs to do the job, but rarely much to spare. That includes a 3-2, 10-inning win early in this double elimination tournament over Tri-Town. Krajeski, a graduate of Nonnewaug High School and the University of Hartford, pitched the first nine innings of that game, extended to a second day because of darkness. “I’m used to it,” grinned the big right-hander whose fastball clipped 94 miles an hour three years ago in his prime with UHart, consistently ranging between 89 and 92 miles an hour. But fastballs, however lethal, for pitchers like these, are often just the setup. Strikeouts on both sides left great hitters leaning over the plate trying to catch an unhittable curve or a “slurve” for strike three.
The Plowboys started hot at the plate, with first-inning hits by lead-off hitter Eric O’Toole and Aaron Granahan (2-for-4, run scored). But Scribner fields almost as well as he pitches. He turned a sharp grounder to the mound into a double play, then coasted through a fly to left. It turned the other way in the bottom of the second. Tri-Town’s Steve Price (2-for-3) led off with the first hit against Krajeski. Kyle Osolin followed with a walk. Then Krajeski replayed Scribner’s first-inning: he fielded a hot grounder, threw to second, then watched it unfold back to first for a double play. A line-out to short ended his inning. So fasten your seat belts; it’s that kind of game.
The Plowboys thought so, too; they called for small-ball. Granahan reached first on a one-out single in the top of the fourth. Geraci picked a high fastball out of the air, turning it into a bunt single. With Granahan already on the run, the throw from third to first was too late to get Geraci out. Worse, it was wide, rolling far beyond the bag while Granahan scrambled home, 1-0. In this game, a single run threatened to be enough. Geraci caught Scribner’s first pitch of the seventh inning for a homer over the left field fence; two runs seemed plenty.
But Tri-Town (17-12), on fire since mid-season and up-starts against Bethlehem’s long pedigree in the league (the Trojans began in 2005; the Plowboys, in 1935), didn’t give up. Kyle Osolin slammed a one-out hit through the left side in the bottom of the seventh. Troy Kobylarz bounced a hit off Krajeski’s glove. A throwing error on the play brought Osolin to third, one out. Trojan Landon Gardella hit a fielder’s choice for the RBI, 2-1. From there, both pitchers bore down harder. A casual fan who didn’t know the term “pitcher’s duel” knew it for the next two innings. Scribner struck out two in a one-two-three top-of-the-eighth. Krajeski struck out the third in a one-two-three bottom-of-the-eighth. With every pitch counting, two more strikeouts by Scribner in the meat of the Plowboy order got the first two outs in the top of the ninth; then Scribner sprinted to first for the third out on a grounder to first baseman Jon Smart.
Krajeski, too, faced the meat of the order in the bottom of the ninth. He started with a strikeout, then a grounder to third. Tri-Town’s Price gave the Trojans a glimmer of hope with a single. Krajeski sprinted to first for the final out on a grounder to first baseman Kevin Pettit. That’s a duel; that’s a proud game; that’s a proud league.
“The last 10 years Bethlehem has a record of 197-55” added head coach Tony Geraci. “I’ve been part of it since 2005, this is my second championship, this one is just as good as the first one. First one was with a little bit of an older group, this one was with the new guys so we completed the whole transition and we made it.”