Second straight rally pulls Bristol Blues from postseason exit into first FCBL championship series since 2015

Published on Friday, 9 August 2019 01:04
Written by ZACK CARPENTER

@ZACKCARPENTERBP

BRISTOL - It was long, it was thrilling, and it was tense … and it was everything the Bristol Blues have been grinding for. 

For the first time since 2015, the Blues are headed to the FCBL championship series. 

The players who labored through 54 regular-season games and earned the No. 2 seed in the playoffs were nine outs away from another exasperating early postseason exit Wednesday night. 

But after piecing together a frantic comeback victory, they were gifted new life and an opportunity to trudge through a 1-hour, 40-minute rain delay Thursday night in the last of a best-of-three semifinals series against the North Shore Navigators. 

And for the second straight night, a big-inning rally and some tough-nosed relief pitching held off a potent Navigators club in an 8-5 victory that sent Muzzy Field fans who entered the gates for a 7:05 p.m. first pitch, and stayed until the last out at 11:53, something they haven’t experienced in four years. 

“I’m excited because the guys are excited and the fans are excited. It’s something the organization hasn’t been to since its first year,” Blues manager Ronnie Palmer said. “It feels good. I feel good for the guys. … We bounced back after [Tuesday] night. We got down early last night, and we got down early tonight.”

Any momentum seized from Wednesday’s incredible comeback from a 7-2 seventh-inning deficit, one that quickly turned into a 12-7 victory for the Bristol Blues, was almost immediately zapped by the rain delay. 

Coming out of the break, the Blues were lethargic, unsharp, and the Navigators pounced, taking a 3-0 lead after putting up one run prior to the delay in the last of a best-of-three FCBL semifinal playoff series. 

So the Bristol needed some sort of spark, something to break out of a funk. That’s exactly what it got. 

First came Christian Beal’s smokeshot line-drive infield single off the body of Navs pitcher Gavin Sullivan. Then Kyle Maves’ run-scoring line drive that sliced off third baseman Logan Bravo’s glove and ricocheted into left field. Two batters later, it was a 3-3 tie via RBIs from Brandon Miller and Buddy Dewaine. 

That’s when Navs manager Mike Odenwaelder elected for reliever Parker Browne to intentionally walk Zeke Diamond - after Diamond had worked a 2-0 count - in favor of facing Sam Loda. The move seemed to pay off, as Loda ripped a hard-hit but playable ground ball at Bravo. 

Bravo made another error, however, and the ball again skipped into left field, allowing Miller and Dylan Reynolds to take a 5-3 lead. 

“I feel like [the delay] kind of slowed us down a little bit, but once we got back into it and the game started rolling, we just kept playing baseball like we’ve played all year,” Loda said. “We just kept battling.”

Dewaine added: “We’ve been doing it all year. It’s been a very long season. I think we’re just used to anything that’s thrown at us.”

The third-seeded Navigators missed a prime opportunity in the fifth after cutting its deficit to 5-4, but reliever Brendan Kirck - the Blues’ last signing of the season July 29 - stranded runners at second and third by punching out Keagan Calero to end the inning. 

Kasey Bass added a sacrifice fly on a deep ball ripped to right-center field in the bottom of the fifth, but the Navs weren’t done. They loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth, though Kirck again escaped trouble with a groundout to first, and Reynolds lasered an RBI single for a 7-4 lead in the bottom half. 

Kirck capped 4 ⅓ one-run innings with a 1-2-3 seventh inning, and Spencer Fox entered in the eighth to make some of the night’s biggest pitches. 

With no outs and runners on first and second, Fox squared off with league MVP Sean Lawlor. Fox won the battle, inducing a high fly out to Austin White, who lasered a perfect throw to third base for what would have been a double play. Home plate umpire Derek Ivinski, however, missed the call and ruled Carson Wetterau safe, and Wetterau scored moments later on a bases-loaded hit batsman. 

But Fox stayed calm and induced an inning-ending double play to Kyle Maves, the Blues added another run in the bottom half, and James Judenis struck out the game-tying run with runners on first and second to close it out. 

“We picked Brendan up when we were a little depleted on staff,” Palmer said. “He’s pitched a couple times, and each time he’s delivered so we’re pretty excited about what he’s done. And Spencer has really grown into that role. We got a lot of quality work out of our ‘pen tonight with [Judenis] closing it out for us too, so I’m really pleased with how our relief pitchers worked.”

After being swept by the Worcester Bravehearts by three total runs in 2015, the Blues were swept by the Nashua Silver Knights in the 2017 semifinals in a pair of one-run heartbreakers and again were swept in the 2018 semis by Worcester. 

But now they are finally back into the last weekend of the season, and some much-needed rest is on the way as the Bravehearts and the Brockton Rox wrap up their series in game three Friday. The winner will take on Bristol in a best-of-three championship series that begins Saturday. 

“It’s exciting. It’s a good win,” Loda said. “I think it’s gonna be fun to go to the championship and try to win it. Why not?” Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or zcarpenter@bristolpress.com



Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol Blues on Friday, 9 August 2019 01:04. Updated: Friday, 9 August 2019 01:06.