By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Bristol Blues (33-23) played their last regular season game at home on Sunday, Aug. 9. They enter the postseason as the winners of the West Division and the No.2-seed in the league, but the celebration was tempered. The Blues will also enter the postseason with a new captain navigating the ship.
This past week, the Blues released manager Barry Lyons, which as the result of a mutual agreement between Bristol Blues General Manager Rick Muntean and team owners Elliot Scheiner, David Lindland, and Steve Lindland.
The Blues’ front office issued a statement upon Lyon’s departure from the organization. “The Blues have decided to part ways with Barry Lyons due to a lack of commitment that we signed a contract for,” officials said in the statement. “As the Blues finish their inaugural season we expect all hands on deck as we make an attempt to deliver a championship to the dedicated Bristol Blues community. The Blues would like to wish Barry Lyons the best of luck as he heads forward.”
Lyons was absent for two games during the regular season. Reports say that the team waited for Lyons when they were preparing to travel up to Brockton, Mass. on Sunday, Aug. 2 to take on the then-first place Rox (34-22). The bus left without the coach, and Blues’ pitching coach Pat Riley managed the team instead.
Lyons also missed the Blues’ 6-4 home win over the Seacoast Mavericks (15-41) on Thursday, July 23, which was the first regular season game the team played after the All-Star game.
“We have asked all involved with the Blues for a commitment to excellence,” said Muntean. “That commitment meant attending and working every game. Barry did not follow through on his commitment. We have tunnel vision in providing a championship for our great fans in our inaugural season. Barry was a great manager and helped the Blues get to the FCBL West division title. We wish him nothing but the best.”
Lyons’ last game as manager of the Blues was a 3-1 win over the Nashua Silver Knights (28-28) at Muzzy Field on Saturday, Aug. 1. Since then, 24-year-old Riley has stepped into the managerial role for the Blues with Scheiner’s son, Jordan Scheiner, assisting Riley as the team’s pitching coach.
“It’s been going well,” said Riley. “We’ve been playing really good baseball down the stretch here. We haven’t really missed a beat. We’ve been really fortunate and I’m thankful of the organization for giving me the opportunity. We have a great squad and great group of guys, which has made my job as easy as it could be, in terms of baseball, with the amount of talent we have.”
Tyler Packanik said that Riley is definitely the type of guy you want at the top.
“He’s very positive and is a player’s coach who wants to be there for us,” said Packanik. “He obviously has great baseball knowledge and we can pick his brain. Guys have definitely rallied behind him and we want to win for him. That’s the most important thing. We want to win for him and the city. He’s rooting for us.”
Bats explode against the Mavericks
The Blues began their week by picking up right where they left off from Sunday with a 9-5 win at home over the Mavericks on Tuesday night, Aug. 4.
The Mavericks jumped out early with a run in the second, two in the third, and a run in the fourth to take a 4-0 lead, but the Blues took care of the rest.
The Blues put up four runs in the fifth to tie the game, 4-4. With the bases loaded and no outs, Stephen Octave came around to score on a RBI single by Griffin Garabedian. Willy Yahn brought Christian Budzik in on a sacrifice fly to right field. During Davis Strong’s at-bat, a wild pitch scored Tyler Roberts. Gerrad Rohan hit into a fielder’s choice, giving Garabedian a chance to give the Blues their fourth run.
In the next inning with two outs and two men on, Yahn knocked in Budzik and Roberts on the first pitch with his second double of the season, increasing the Blues’ lead to 6-4. The Blues weren’t done. They added three more runs in the eighth. Yahn struck again, hitting in Budzik with one out and the bases loaded. Strong followed by scoring Roberts on a sacrifice fly to center. A couple batters later, Garabedian scored on a wild pitch.
Yahn went 2-for-4 with three RBIs, a double, and a sacrifice fly. Yahn has played seven games with Blues thus far and said that he has been having a great time.
“It’s a winning environment here in Bristol,” said Yahn. “It’s been a lot of fun to be a part of this team and be able to contribute. It’s a great team with a great lineup every single day. The lineup that’s around me puts me in a position to do well every single day.”
Scafariello went 3-for-4 with a walk, and Budzik went 2-for-3 with three runs and a walk. Kyle Dube started the game on the mound and went four innings with a strikeout, allowing five hits, three earned runs, and two walks. Rayne Supple (2-1) was credited with his second win of the season, relieving Dube in the fifth to pitch two innings. Supple threw two strikeouts and allowing two walks, and a hit.
Road win at Titans
The next night brought the beginning of a four-game road stretch for the Blues that started with a 3-1 win over the Torrington Titans (24-28) when they traveled to Fuessenich Park in Torrington.
The Blues scored the first run of the game in the second with a base hit from Jamie Timothy that brought in Scafariello with two outs and two men on. The Titans tied the game up with a run in the next inning, but the Blues secured the win with two more runs. With one out and one man on in the fifth, Ryan Costello drove in Dylan Morris on a RBI single after Morris got on base with a double. With one on and two outs in the seventh, Morris came in to score on a base knock by Yahn after getting on base on an error by the shortstop.
Timothy went 2-for-3 with a RBI and a walk. Dominic LoBrutto (5-1) earned his fifth win of the season after starting the game on the mound, going six innings with four strikeouts and allowing three hits, two walks, and an earned run. Robert Paccione (S, 11) got his eleventh save of the season after getting the last three outs of the game, throwing two strikeouts.
3 in a row at Suns
The Blues won their next three games in Pittsfield, Mass. against the Suns (25-30). The first two games were played as a doubleheader on Thursday night, both in seven innings. The Blues defeated the Suns 7-1 in the first game.
After Strong gave the Blues a 1-0 lead after scoring on a wild pitch in the first, the Suns tied the game up with a run in the fifth. The Blues went on to put up three runs in the sixth and seventh innings to secure the win.
Garabedian hit his first homerun (solo) of the season in the sixth, followed by a RBI double from Strong that scored Yahn and a RBI single from Scafariello that scored Strong. In the seventh, Whigham scored on an error by the second baseman, Garabedian scored Rinsky on a sacrifice fly to left field, and Yahn scored Packanik on a fielder’s choice.
Strong went 2-for-4 with two runs, a RBI, and a double. Steve Wallace (2-2) pitched a complete game with three strikeouts, allowing seven hits and two walks.
Following the first game, the Blues defeated the Suns again, this time by a score of 2-1.
Again, the Blues struck first with a run in the first. As the first batter of the game, Morris got the Blues going with a triple, coming in to score on Packanik’s base hit right after. Again, the Suns returned to tie the game with a run in the fifth, but Timothy’s RBI single in the sixth that scored Whigham gave the Blues the victory.
Whigham went 3-for-3 with a run, a walk, and a double. Ryan Lauria (1-2) started the game on the mound and picked up his first win of the season, going five innings with a strikeout, and allowing six hits and an earned run. Riley Streit (S, 1) got his first save of the season, going two innings with two strikeouts, and allowing just three hits.
The next night, the Blues shut out the Suns in nine innings by a score of 3-0.
With one out and two men on in the third, Morris scored on a single by Rohan. Yahn later came in to score on a passed ball. In the seventh, Rohan brought Garabedian home on a sacrifice fly to center field.
Rohan went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and a sacrifice fly. George Lund (4-1) started the game on the mound and went five innings with five strikeouts, allowing five hits and two walks. Michael Nocera (S, 3) relieved Lund and got the save after pitching the remainder of the game with two strikeouts, allowing two hits and a walk.
Titans end the streak
The Blues returned to Connecticut on Saturday night, but continued out on the road to Fuessenich Park in Torrington, where they lost to the Titans by a score of 6-4. The loss ended the Blues’ longest winning streak of the season of seven games. The streak was started on Saturday’s 3-1 win over the Silver Knights.
With two outs and two men on in the first, Costello drove in Packanik on a base knock to take a 1-0 lead. In the third, the Blues added three more runs. However, those three runs would be the last three runs the Blues would score in the game. With two outs and one man on in the third, Morris hit Timothy in on a RBI double. After a Packanik walk, Yahn followed up with a double of his own that brought in Morris and Packanik. The Titans went on to put up a run in the fourth, fifth, and sixth, including three in the eighth. The Titans also finished with 13 hits. Morris, Packanik, Yahn, and Timothy (2-for-4) each had a double.
Tim Cate started the game on the mound and went four innings with six strikeouts, allowing three hits, two walks, and an earned run. Budzik (0-1) took the mound for the first time all season and was given the loss after pitching the last two innings of the game, allowing five hits and four walks.
Loss in the finale
The Blues ended the regular season at home the next night, but were defeated by the Worcester Bravehearts (26-30), 8-1.
Octave (2-for-4) scored the Blues’ only run of the game when he hit Strong in on a RBI single in the eighth. Tom Curtin (0-1) was given the loss after starting his first game for the Blues on the mound. Curtin went five and two thirds innings with two strikeouts, allowing seven hits, seven walks, and five earned runs.
The Blues have dealt with changes in their roster toward the end of the regular season, replacing familiar starters that have been lost for the rest of the season. Some of those new faces include infielder Yahn (UConn), outfielder Morris (UMass-Amherst), outfielder Stefanski (UConn), and pitcher Curtin (plans to attend CCSU in the fall). With the addition of Yahn and Stefanski, the Blues now have four players that attend UConn.
“They’re all great buddies already,” said Packanik. “We’re always hanging out. It’s pretty cool when a new guy comes in because we learn about them, their school, and where they come from. It’s kind of unique. We all like to pick their brains and all that stuff with baseball knowledge. They definitely grow on us as a team pretty quick. They’re already rooting for us, wanting us to win, and trying to commit to the team. They’re here to do whatever it takes to win, and win a championship.”
Stefanski is one of the new players that Packanik has taken under his wing.
“Troy is struggling a little bit at the plate,” said Packanik. He came from legion and now he’s playing against some of the top college guys in the country. He’s struggling a little bit, but we’re telling him, ‘Hey, keep going out there swinging. You’re going to find it. You play at UConn, you’re a great player, and we all know it. Just go out there, relax, have fun, and we know you’re going to be there in the end. If a big moment comes up, we believe in you and have confidence in you.’”
The Futures Collegiate Baseball League playoffs will feature eight teams in a three-round format, leaving the last-place teams of the East and West Divisions eliminated. The first and second rounds (knockout round) will be played as single-elimination games, followed by a best-of-three championship series.
The Blues enter the postseason as the No.2-seed, after finishing the regular season as the first-place team of the West Division. The Marthas Vineyard Sharks come in on top as the No.1-seed, followed by the Brockton Rox (No.3-seed), the North Shore Navigators (No.4-seed), the Nashua Silver Knights (No.5-seed), the Worcester Bravehearts (No.6-seed), the Torrington Titans (No.7-seed), and the Pittsfield Suns (No.8-seed).
Round one is set to start on Tuesday, Aug. 11. The Blues will host the Torrington Titans at Muzzy Field. The other matchups are as follows: Suns at Sharks; Bravehearts at Rox; and Silver Knights at Navigators.
“Every game matters, obviously, with the single elimination format,” said Riley. “We’re going to play all the cards we have from here on out. There’s no saving anything. We’re going to go with the best lineups and arms. This is what we’ve been playing for. You’ve played 56 regular season games and it’s tough that it boils down to one playoff game, but we’re going to embrace that. I think the guys are going to be ready to go. It’s going to be an exciting time for the Blues organization and the city of Bristol. Hopefully we can make them proud.”