WINDSOR LOCKS - The team may not make it look easy, but Bristolâ€™s Junior American Legion Baseball squad seems to somehow find a way to win most of the time.
Trailing 5-0 midway through the game and down to their last out in the bottom of the seventh, the Post 2 Juniors came from behind to send the game into extra innings and eventually win 6-5 on a walk-off, two-out, bases-loaded RBI single by Evan Bouchard in the eighth inning, beating Rhode Island state runner-up Elmwood Sports Center Auburn Post 20 in the opening round of Northeast Regional play on Friday afternoon at Veterans Memorial Park.
Bristol was coming off its 4-3 win over Stamford last Sunday for the state title, in which it was similarly down to its last out, down 2-0, before winning in the eighth inning.
â€śOur team just never quits, and Iâ€™m proud of the boys,â€ť Bristol head coach Bill Mason said. â€śAll these extra inning games and all the competing that weâ€™ve done, itâ€™s been great.â€ť
Bristol was down 5-3 headed into the bottom of the seventh, when Joseph Maglio III drew the first walk issued by either team in the game. He proved to be the last batter for the Cranston, R.I.-based teamâ€™s starting pitcher, Ayden Bliss, who let up just two base runners through the gameâ€™s first four innings before Bristol got to him for a pair of runs in the fifth.
Rhode Island relief pitcher Jake Cuddemi was then greeted with an RBI double deep down the left field line off the bat of Kyle Lauretti. A fly out to shallow right field left Lauretti stuck at second with two outs, but Bouchard (4-for-5, 2 RBI) delivered a game-tying RBI single.
Bristol went on to load the bases on an infield single from Tyler Donohue, who moved to second on fieldersâ€™ indifference, and an intentional walk to Dillon Hudson, but a line drive out back to the pitcher ended the frame and sent the game to an extra inning.
Bristolâ€™s Trevor Mays pitched the complete game and only got stronger as it went along. Only one Rhode Island batter reached base against him over the final three innings, and that was on an infield error with one out in the eighth. He had seven strikeouts in the game, including five over those final three innings. He struck out the final two batters in the eighth inning after the error.
â€śWith this team all season, weâ€™re never out of a game. I never doubt my team,â€ť Bouchard said.
â€śWeâ€™ve just got confidence and we have each otherâ€™s backs, and ready to win any game - bottom of the seventh or any time we need to do it,â€ť he said. â€śWe never look at the score. We just think, itâ€™s not last inning, weâ€™ve still got to the last inning, weâ€™ve still got one more inning to hit, one more inning to hit, weâ€™ve still got one at-bat. We just think positive the whole game. We come back a lot.â€ť
Despite the final result, the first half of the game went all Rhode Islandâ€™s way.
The Cranston squad got a leadoff double from Jorge Ramos to start the game, and he scored on an RBI single from Kaleb Harris for a 1-0 lead after the first inning. In the second, Bliss reached second on an infield error to start the frame and scored on an RBI single by Aaron Coccoli.
Mays got a 1-2-3 third inning, but Rhode Island struck for a pair of runs in the fourth on singles from Massimo Feroce and Mario Delsignore, an errant pickoff throw, a stolen base and a run-scoring passed ball, followed by an RBI double from Coccoli (2-for-3, 2 RBI) to make it 4-0.
In the top of the fifth, a two-out single from Harris, an infield error and an RBI single by Delsignore gave the Rhode Island runner-ups a 5-0 advantage.
Thatâ€™s when Bristolâ€™s bats came alive.
Joe Crowley hit a leadoff double to start the bottom of the fifth and moved to third on a bunt single by Jack Kozikowski - a sacrifice attempt in which Kozikowski was able to beat the throw. After Kozikowski stole second, Derek Mason dropped a suicide squeeze that successfully drove in Bristolâ€™s first run of the game, as Crowley crossed the plate. Lauretti then grounded out to short, but Kozikowski scored on the play to cut the gap to 5-2.
â€śDerek Masonâ€™s squeeze got us going, and thatâ€™s what weâ€™ve done all year, the small ball,â€ť coach Mason said. â€śIt got us going, and thatâ€™s the way weâ€™ve rolled all year.â€ť
In the sixth inning, a two-out single by Hudson set up an RBI triple from Anthony Marrotti that cut the margin to 5-3.
After Bristol tied it in the seventh, Crowley led off the eighth by beating out an infield single against Rhode Islandâ€™s third pitcher of the day, Dylan Demers. A walk to Maglio with one out and No. 9 hitter Nick Ruffino getting hit by a pitch with two outs set up Bouchardâ€™s game-winning base hit.
â€śI think they were a little keyed up and â€¦ that bunt with Derek, that got it going,â€ť coach Mason said. â€śThatâ€™s what weâ€™ve done all year, and thatâ€™s motivate our team to get going every time.â€ť
While there is a consolation bracket, the Northeast Regional is really a single-elimination format, with a team needing to win three straight to claim the title. Bristol continues that quest tonight in a 7 p.m. game against the winner of Friday nightâ€™s late game between New Hampshire state champion Dover and host Windsor Locks.
â€śWe want to just keep going. Weâ€™re on a roll right now,â€ť coach Mason said.
Bouchard added, â€śI feel great. I feel like weâ€™re just going to just keep playing our game, do the same thing, and weâ€™re ready to win.â€ť
Paul Angilly can be reached at 860-973-1800, or firstname.lastname@example.org