Litchfield heads to championship

           Copyright Peter Wallace  Register-Citizen  8/17/2011

The Litchfield Cowboys are going to the Tri-State Baseball Finals for the first time since 1990, thanks to a 5-2 win over cross-town rival Tri-Town Trojans Tuesday evening at Torrington’s Fuessenich Park. “It’s exciting for us just to go to the show,” said player/coach Chris Beach, whose well-balanced mix of veterans and young players produced the top seed (18-3, 3-0 playoffs) during the season for the 12-team double-elimination league tournament. Tri-Town, the tournament’s No. 2 seed (16-5, 2-1 playoffs), offered an historic contrast to the Cowboys as the last two teams standing in the winners’ bracket after three playoff rounds.
The Litchfield organization is a venerable part of a league that traces its roots to 1934. The Cowboys joined in 1973, but have just one title. They beat Shepaug in the 1978 championship series. Since then, it’s been frustration or nothing as Amenia was the nemesis in fruitless Cowboy championship appearances in 1979, 1985 and 1990. “This is the first chance in our generation,” said Beach. The Trojans joined the 17-team league in 2005 and shot to the finals last year before losing to the Bethlehem Plowboys.
Tuesday might have been a battle between old and new, tradition and innovation. But in the end, it was about baseball fundamentals. “Timely hitting. They did it; we didn’t,” said Tri-Town player/coach Ryan McDonald. The Trojans out-hit the Cowboys 11-9, but couldn’t spring their trap time after time when the bait was set with hits. “We played solid baseball,” said Litchfield’s Beach. “We had key hits, played great defense when we needed it and got solid pitching.”
Nevertheless, Tri-Town made the best first impression. Casey McDonald (3-for-5) opened the game with a hit down the third base line. One out later, Dan McCarty (2-for-5) doubled him home with a blast to right field. The Trojans led 1-0; even then, they didn’t get enough mileage from their clout. Steve Price reached on an error sending McCarty to third, one out. Down by a run and still in a jam, Litchfield starter Kyle Robinson (6 innings, 2 earned runs, 9 hits, 5 strikeouts, 1 walk) began his modus for the game as well: stay calm and let the defense help. Fly balls to left and center ended the threat, just one run run down. Next inning, Trojans Troy Koby larz (2-for-4, run scored) and Jon Smart (2-for-4) started the inning with hits, then froze on first and second for three outs. In the third inning, Steve Price and Kyle Osolin got to first and second on a hit and a walk, one out, then couldn’t get further.
Litchfield started the same way against Tri-Town starter Andrew Osolin (5.2 innings, 3 earned runs, 8 hits, 4 strikeouts, 3 walks, 1 hit batter), then broke the code. Lee McKenna (3-for-3, double, 2 RBI, run scored) and Chris Beach got to first and second on a hit and a walk in the first; Chris Blazek and Collin Dickinson were at first and third with hits in the second. Then the Trojans helped in the third. Adam Claire reached on a scoring error. Lee McKenna, the timeliest of hitters in a 3-for-3 evening, rapped him home for the tie with an opposite-field drive.
“(Osolin) always pitches against us and he likes to throw first-pitch strikes,” said McKenna. “I just try to flick it to right field.” Robinson and his defense got stingier — one hit in the fourth and fifth. Osolin had his way in the fourth, then Litchfield bats struck home in the fifth. Claire started with a one-out double. McKenna matched him with an RBI double for his third straight hit. Beach walked; Karl Quist bashed the third double of the inning to center field for two more runs. Litchfield led 4-1.
With one out in the top of the sixth inning, Tri-Town’s Kobylarz, Smart and Joe Bunnell (RBI) ran off three straight hits. The good news was they scored a run; the bad news was, they only scored a run. Litchfield shortstop Claire came up with a double play ball, flip to second baseman Ben Murphy and over to Beach at first, end of inning. Litchfield was back with timeliness — a leadoff hit by Collin Dickinson — and help from Tri-Town — two throwing errors — for one more run in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Connor Murray took over on Tri-Town’s mound (2.1 innings, 4 strikeouts, 0 walks) for just one more Litchfield hit. McKenna did much the same on Litchfield’s mound (3 innings, 2 hits, 3 strikeouts, 0 hits). From there, it was pure defense. “We were not making the plays,” said Tri-Town’s McDonald. Litchfield center fielder Ed Pequignot represented a Cowboy defense that made several spectacular saves. “I just keep my hat low, try to watch the ball come off the bat and listen to my teammates,” said Pequignot, explaining how he plays Fuessenich Park’s angle on the evening sun. Pequignot, in his second year with the team, sounds like he has the archetypical Cowboy. This generation of old and new is ready for its turn.
Wolcott Scrappers  5   Terryville Black Sox  0
The third-seeded Wolcott Scrappers and the No. 8 Terryville Black Sox locked up in what started out as a tough, low-scoring elimination game in the Tri-State League playoffs Tuesday night at the BAW Complex. Wolcott (2-1) used RBI singles from Mike Vaccarelli, Eddie Belval and Rob Silas, a throwing error and a run scored by Ryan Soucy on a wild pitch to back the solid pitching of Justin Koutros to pull away for a 5-0 win over Terryville (2-2). Wolcott hosts the No. 7 Naugatuck Dogs at BAW at 8 tonight.
In the bottom of the third, the Scrappers put runners on first and second. The Black Sox appeared to be on their way out of the inning when Dan Baccaro and Gary Swierzinski combined to turn a double play. Baccaro slid in for the catch in short left on a ball off the bat of Adam LaCapra, then threw to second for the twin killing. Mike Perugini, who was on first, stole second with Vaccarelli at the plate when the Terryville catcher couldn’t get a grip on the ball. The right-hand hitting Vaccarelli then dunked a single into right in front of Pat Mulcahy to bring home Perugini with the game’s first run.
Wolcott loaded the bases in the fourth. With two outs, Soucy scored on a wild pitch to make it 2-0. Terryville starter Tyler Wenz got out of the remaining first and third jam with a called third strike. In the bottom of the eighth, the Scrappers added three runs off reliever Dave Alarcon. Belval and Silas had an RBI single apiece to make it 4-0. A throwing error allowed Silas to score to make it 5-0. “Eddie’s been on fire lately,” Soucy said. “Starting to see the ball better,” Belval said. “Getting in a groove.” Belval had three singles and a run scored.
Wolcott has had solid pitching and defense all season, and the hitting has recently started to come around. “When we hit, we roll,” Soucy said. For the Scrappers, Koutros worked his way out of a couple first and second jams in the game. Koutros gave up just three hits and struck out 12 while walking one batter and hitting another. Koutros gave up a pair of singles in the top of the first, but was able to get out of the jam. A wet night – due to both cool air and rain from the previous couple of nights – forced Koutros to use more fastballs throughout the game instead of his split-finger, which is generally his out pitch. “It usually takes me a while to get loose,” Koutros said.
In the second, Dave Baldyga slammed a two-out double on a hop to the 375-foot mark in dead center field. Koutros got the last out of the inning on a ground out to Vaccarelli at short. “They hit the ball hard, but it was right at people,” Koutros said. Koutros didn’t allow a hit after Baldyga’s two-out double. The Black Sox had just two other baserunners in the game, both in the sixth inning. In that inning, Koutros also faced first and second and two outs, but got a slow ground out to Soucy at second to end the inning. Koutros retired the last 10 batters he faced to finish off the game.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Scrappers gave Koutros an even bigger cushion to work with. Soucy led off with a walk, then stole second. Erik Sehnal singled to center, but Soucy was thrown out at home on a close play where Soucy came in stand up but thought that catcher Joe Deming missed the tag. Sehnal advanced to second on the throw home. When Alarcon got a fly out to right, Sehnal advanced to third, but the Black Sox needed just one more out. That’s when the timely hitting started for the Scrappers. Belval laced a pitch to right field for an RBI single and a 3-0 lead. When the throw came home, Belval advanced to second. Silas did the same thing on his RBI single the other way to right that gave Wolcott a 4-0 lead. When a throw to first from third base got away, Silas scored to make it 5-0.
That was all Koutros needed. Even after firing a complete game, Koutros said he would be ready if needed tonight. “It’s a long winter,” Koutros said. For Wolcott, there is still more baseball left to be played.
 Naugatuck Dogs  9    Waterbury Wild  2
Ken Graveline pitched a three-hitter with 11 strikeouts as Naugy eliminated teh Wild in the Tri-State League Playoffs Tuesday night at Waterville Park. Devon Murphy had three hits and two runs scored for Naugy while Kyle Faucher doubled twice and drove in two runs. Manny Cruz had two hits for Waterbury.
 Watertown Blaze 5    Bristol Greeners  4
Watertown was down 4-0 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning when the improbable happened as the Blaze reeled off 4 runs to tie the game and then won the game in the 10th inning. More details coming soon…