BRISTOL - The Bristol Blues stood at the top of the dugout and watched the Worcester Bravehearts make a dog pile in front of second base.
There was disappointment, but there was also a sense of pride as they made their way into the clubhouse with the cheers of the opposing players echoing behind them following their loss in the Futures League championship on Sunday by a score of 12-2.
But even in defeat, it wasn’t lost on the Blues that through all the ups and downs, all of the roster turnover and being on the brink of elimination just four days earlier, they were able to play for the chance to hoist the championship trophy for the first time in their short history - their second attempt since their inception in 2015.
“You appreciate the hell out of the effort they put forth and the commitment they make,” Bristol manager Ronnie Palmer said of what he told his players afterward. “It’s a long summer and a grind for these guys. They give up their summers to work on their game and the way they represented the city of Bristol and the organization was first class. They played their tails off. Obviously, there is a disappointed taste in their mouth, so you just thank them for what they did.”
That was the way the Blues played the whole season, one that saw them secure the No. 2 seed in the FCBL playoffs, a first-round bye, and lead the league in a number offensive categories. Bristol just didn’t have enough in Game 1 on Saturday, a 2-1 loss, or in Sunday’s win-or-go-home contest.
For most of the afternoon, Garrett Coe kept Bristol in contention.
The offense just couldn’t provide enough support for the UConn freshman, who surrendered four runs over 5 1/3 innings, while walking six and striking out four. That included a 25-minute delay in the fourth for an argument over Worcester using too many mound visits for its starter, FCBL Pitcher of the Year Angelo Baez, who remained in the game for one more batter after play resumed.
“Ronnie was saying their pitching coach crossed the foul line too many times towards the pitcher, meaning they have to take [Baez] out as if it’s two trips in the inning,” Blues catcher Jordan Laske said. “The ump said he could stay in the game for one more batter and he had to come out after that. That’s just tough for everyone. No one wants to stop the game for that long, emotions flaring. The game just ended up shifting their way.”
“At the end of the day, rules are rules,” Palmer said. “That’s the Pitcher of the Year out there for them. Any coach in my position sees two visits, he’s got to come out of the game. The league made a mistake and the umpire made a mistake. That decision should have taken 30 seconds, not 25 minutes. Unfortunately, they made a big production out of it when they didn’t need to.”
Unfortunately for Bristol, the offense didn’t score again. The Blues finished the afternoon with as many hits as the Bravehearts (10) but managed to score 10 fewer runs and had to play catchup from the very beginning.
Brandon Miller drove in Bristol’s first score of the afternoon on a single, while Dylan Reynolds drove in Miller in the third.
After Baez, who pitched 3 2/3 innings and gave up both runs, Jack Moynihan (2 1/3 innings, 1 hit), Brendan Case (1 inning, 2 hits) and McCabe Sargent (2 innings, 3 walks) kept the Blues’ offense in check.
As a team, Bristol left 10 runners stranded on base and had just five runners in scoring position from the fourth inning on.
“From the very beginning of the year, we figured if we play our best game, there’s not many teams that can hang with us,” said Miller, who went 2-for-4 and a run scored. “Today just wasn’t our day and neither was yesterday. They pitched pretty well and filled up the zone for us. But that’s baseball. That’s just how it works sometimes.”
Already up 3-2 thanks to a three-run first, the Bravehearts broke the game open with a five-run sixth inning, one the Blues used three pitchers to complete.
After Coe was pulled from the game with one out, Goodwin Tech alum Tommy Hughes struggled to get out No. 2.
The Southern Connecticut freshman hit a batter and gave up a single to load the bases. Tim Becker then hit a single up the middle right past Hughes’ glove into center field for the inning’s second run. Another hit batter brought home Mack Cheli before Nicholas Martin popped out to Laske.
Another RBI single, this one by Mariano Ricciardi, ended Hughes afternoon. In came Andrew Marrero, who surrendered another RBI single to John Thrasher.
Hughes was charged with four earned runs in 1/3 of an inning. Marrero finished his day charged with four runs as well over 1 2/3 innings of work.
Worcester tacked on another four in the eighth, highlighted by Bo Rice’s three-run homer over the right field fence off Marrero. Rice led the Bravehearts offensively with a 1-for-4 day with four RBI and two runs scored. Ricciardi and Thrasher drove in two runs each.
“We had some of our best guys out there on the bump today and they just put together some great at-bats,” Laske said. “Credit to them. Garrett did a good job battling. He didn’t allow more than four hits.”
The Blues, on the other hand, didn’t have any answers for Worcester’s output and after the game, packed up their lockers for the final time, ready to head back to their respective schools, looking back on a summer that was certainly an eventful one.
“I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish, even though it didn’t even the way we wanted it to,” outfielder Austin White said. “But things happen for a reason. We have a lot of really good ballplayers. I’m proud of them. We never gave up.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org