Brass City tops Bethlehem for Title

The Brass City Brew made the best of its opportunities while Bethlehem’s Plowboys didn’t in a 4-1 Brass City win Sunday afternoon at Torrington’s Fuessenich Park that made the Brew this year’s Tri-State League Champions. “It’s frustrating,” said Bethlehem player/coach Tony Geraci, whose Plowboys have won the title five times in the last 11 years and finished second four times in that span. “We had guys on in a lot of innings.” Bethlehem out-hit the Brew 10-8, but stranded 11 runners to just five left on by the Brew. Brass City, which entered the league in 2000, lost the championship series to Winsted in three games last year.
“After last year, it’s nice to come back,” said player/coach Sam Sirica. “Starting from nothing 10 years ago, to now, makes you feel good. Bethlehem is a quality team, and that just makes this sweeter.” Just as they did a week ago, in a 3-1 Brass City win in Game One, the teams went with their aces, two of the best pitchers in the league.
For the first five innings, the aces — Brass City’s Sean Keegan, a Fairfield University veteran, and Sam Iverson, a reliever in some of Eastern Connecticut State University’s glory years — and their defenses, made Sunday’s game look likely to go 16 innings or more. For the first three, each pitcher gave up just a single hit. Plowboy lead-off batter Eric O’Toole (3-for-3) got Bethlehem’s hit in the first inning. The Brew’s Mike Padovani got one in the second inning. O’Toole got as far as third base; Padovani went down in the first of Bethlehem’s three double plays for the game.
Nevertheless, Geraci’s and Bethlehem’s frustration on offense got a good start in the fourth inning. With one out, Nick Chiovitti (2-for-3) and Bob McMahon (2-for-3) hit back-to-back singles. McMahon was out on a fielder’s choice, but, with Chiovitti dancing on third, Keegan (7 innings, 1 earned run, 8 hits, 1 strikeout, 5 walks) issued a walk to Mike Johnston to load the bases, two outs. Then one more fielder’s choice ended the threat. The Brew didn’t feel good either when hits in the fifth inning, by Marc DiDominzio (2-for-4) and Bob Verroneau, counted for nothing thanks to another Plowboy double play.
But the Brew, who felt hampered in last year’s series from the wear of making it, just before, to the Stan Musial Regionals in Albany, had all cylinders running this time and the persistence that comes with something to prove. So, with one out in the top of the sixth, three straight batters got to Iverson (9 innings, 3 earned runs, 8 hits, 8 strikeouits, 3 walks) for singles. Paul Novakowski lined the final hit to short right center to push Steve Carosella across for the game’s first run. When the third Bethlehem double play erased any further Brass City chances, Novakowski’s hit looked very much like a game-winner.
Nope; the Plowboys pushed through more frustration — a runner on third and a Brass City double play — in the bottom of the sixth, then came back strong in the seventh. Lead-off batter Kyle Capaldo (2-for-4) beat out a bunt. O’Toole singled him to third and Geraci hit a ball to deep center for the sac fly. At 1-1, it looked like 16 innings again.
Then two things happened to build the Brew’s crown. First, Brass City found what Bethlehem so often could not: the big hit at the right time. Then, Keegan, who had shoulder surgery after his Fairfield career and did much of his pitching in pain in this series, gave way to a Post University senior, left-hander Tim McCarthy.
The big Brass City hit, in the top of the eighth, came more as a pounce, as Iverson had his game’s only slight struggle with the strike zone. The first out of the inning, at the top of Brass City’s order, went down to a wicked Iverson curve. Then Carosella walked in five pitches. Ironically, a high pitch to Brass City’s No. 3 batter got tomahawked over the left field fence for the game-wining difference. When another walk and Bethlehem’s only two errors scored Paul Novakowski, the third run of the inning was pure gravy.
Reliever McCarthy (2 innings, 2 hits, 3 strikeouts, 0 walks) made sure of that, while pushing Bethlehem’s frustration to the brink. McCarthy, who throws a fastball, curve and knuckleball, had three up, three down in the bottom of the eighth. Then Capaldo poised himself for a final rally with a one-out single in the ninth. O’Toole followed with his third hit of the day. McCarthy got his second strikeout, two outs. Then an infield error extended the Plowboy hopes, loading the bases one more time. And one more time, the Brew found the right touch, while the Plowboys couldn’t. McCarthy bore down for his third strikeout to leave three more Bethlehem runners on the field.
Now, with its first Tri-State League Championship plaque on the bar, the Brew’s sponsor — Ordinary Joe’s, in Watertown — might feel moved to change its name to something…well, a little more special.
Brass City Brew takes Tri-State League opener
 Brass City, the No. 1 seed in the Tri-State Baseball League playoffs and winner of the double elimination tournament’s loser’s bracket, took a one-game lead over No. 2 seed Bethlehem, the winner’s bracket champion, in the first game of the league’s best-of-three championship series Sunday afternoon at Fuessenich Park. The 3-1 Brew win sets up another face-off next Saturday between two of the league’s best pitchers, Brass City’s Sean Keegan and Bethlehem’s Sam Iverson.
“It’s ace versus ace,” grinned Bethlehem player/coach Tony Geraci, whose Plowboys got the best of the Brew in a 5-2 regular-season game, but saw Brass City hop on Iverson for two runs in the first inning on Sunday. “Those two runs in the first inning were huge; you give Sean a lead and he’s not going to let it go,” said Marc DiDominzio, whose complete-game pitching win over Burlington last week brought the Brew to its second championship series in two years. (Winsted won the title in three games last year.) Sunday, DiDominzio, who played shortstop at Post University (Waterbury) for four years, helped spark the Brew’s bats with a first-inning RBI and a 3-for-4 day at the plate.
Battling on a day with temperatures in the ’90s, both pitchers went the distance. Iverson (5 strikeouts, 2 walks), a reliever at Eastern Connecticut during several Warrior Division II World Series years, gave up three hits in the first and another three in the fourth as Brass City tacked on one more run, then sprinkled just four more hits in the game. He got the final out in the fourth inning with the bases loaded. In a game in which every thin edge counted, Keegan (5 hits, 10 strikeouts, 4 walks), who pitched four years for Fairfield University, then had rotator cuff surgery, was sharper. “The heat keeps you loose,” he said. “I warmed up in the fourth or fifth and started hitting my spots.”
With just one hit before the fourth inning, the Plowboys trailed just 2-0. Nick Chiovitti, Aaron Granahan and Geraci led off with three singles in a row to load the bases, nobody out. Then Bunty Ray (2-for-3) had his only bad at-bat of the day, hitting a double play ball to DiDominzio at second, as Chiovitti crossed the plate with Bethlehem’s only run. A fly to right ended the Plowboys’ threat. Keegan gave up just one more hit (to Ray in the seventh) in the game. It’s the kind of game this serious league promised its fans — great pitching, no fielding errors and rare opportunities that either pay off or not, swinging the outcome of the game for good, then and there.
In that first inning for Brass City, for instance, Eric Gormley led off with one of just two walks from Iverson all game. With two outs, Eric Rovinetti (RBI, run scored), Paul Novakowski and DiDominzio followed with hits. DiDominzio (run scored) was the only member of the trio to get another hit. He led off the only other Brass City scoring inning, the fourth, with a single. Then Gary Novakowski and Sam Sirica (RBI double) followed with their only hits of the day. The team that makes scarce hits count the most wins. That’s what the scoreboard really says in a tough game.
On the other hand, the arrangement of the championship series — the opener this Sunday, then two more games next weekend if it goes the full three — is indicative of the league’s heart as well. Brew third baseman Mike Butkovic got married Saturday on the originally-scheduled date for the series opener. (Who knew that the Brew would still be playing? And what smart groom calls it a priority if they are?) And, naturally, most of Butkovic’s teammates wanted to be at the wedding. The series start was shifted to Sunday. (No, Butkovic was not on hand.) So next Saturday, the aces come up again.