NEW BRITAIN - There was no Fourth of July celebration for the New Britain Bees.
In contention for the Liberty Division’s first-half playoff spot entering Wednesday’s game, the Bees needed to win their final two games and for the Somerset Patriots to lose their final two to clinch the spot.
The Long Island Ducks changed those plans in the top of the eighth inning at New Britain Stadium. The Ducks scored five runs as New Britain fell 5-3, giving the Patriots the first-half division title. The Bees will now have to win the second-half division crown or the wild card should Somerset come in first again.
“That was the whole game,” said Bees manager Wally Backman, whose team had two nine of its last 11 games before the day started. “It’s frustrating because we’ve played so well to give ourselves a chance to win that first half. Today, losing that game, knocks us out of the first half with one win to go. To play as well as we did, and to lose the way that we did, giving up the runs that we did in the eighth with one of our better pitchers.”
New Britain used three pitchers in the inning: Devin Burke, Jim Fuller and Sam Gervacio with only Gervacio coming out of the frame unscathed.
Burke last just two batters, including Dan Lyons who hit a one-out triple to left field before giving way to Fuller. But the Bees All-Star reliever immediately had trouble.
Jordany Valdespin hit an RBI infield single with Emilio Bonifacio and Travis Snider reaching on a walk and single respectively. Lew Ford then grounded into a fielder’s choice to score Bonifacio.
It was Taylor Ard, however, who officially ended Fuller’s afternoon after hitting a two-run homer on the third pitch of the at-bat.
In 1/3 of an inning, the left-hander was charged with four runs and three hits, receiving the loss. It was a welcomed change for Long Island, which had little success against New Britain starter Andy Van Hekken. The Bees’ lefty allowed five hits in 5.2 innings and struck out five with no walks and no runs.
“I thought our pitching was working well until the eighth,” Backman said. “Van Hekken pitched well today. We brought in Fuller, who’s pitched very well. He’s had a couple of rough outings the last couple, but you don’t expect the guy to give up five runs on 14 pitches either.”
Early, it appeared as though the Bees had carried over their momentum from Tuesday’s win and gave Van Hekken some breathing room.
All-Star catcher James Skelton drove his 20th RBI of the season with a single to center field in the second inning that brought home Brock Sassi. Later in the bottom of the fifth, outfielder Ozney Guillen hit an RBI single of his own to score Jonathan Galvez, while Deibinson Romero’s groundout out put New Britain in front 3-0.
The Bees will now close out the first half of the season and the series against the Ducks tonight at 6:35 p.m.
“It’s frustrating,” Backman said.
Shelby Iava can be reached at (860) 801-5096 or firstname.lastname@example.org