By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Bristol Blues baseball team has won 11 out of their last 16 games after going 4-3 over this past week. The Blues have also climbed out of the cellar of last place in the West Division to now just three and a half games behind the first-place Wachusett Dirt Dawgs (13-6) in second, third in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League.
Chemistry and camaraderie between the players, along with execution of the game that was absent in the early going of the season, is a big part of why the Blues have been on a tear as of late. However, 15 out of the 22 games the Blues have played in thus far on the season have been decided by three runs or less. The Blues are usually never out of it, and to Blues manager Ronnie Palmer, that’s always a good thing.
“It means that we’ve had the opportunity in a lot of ball games to either win or lose,” the manager said. “Early on, we weren’t taking advantage of those opportunities, but lately, we’ve been extremely opportunistic when we’ve had chances. So any time that we pitch and play solid defense, we’re giving ourselves chances offensively to take advantage of close ball games like we’ve had.”
When they play clean baseball that’s error free, cut down on walks from their pitchers, cut down on strikeouts offensively, and put a lot of balls in play, the Blues have put themselves in the best position to win ball games. Their record and recent success reflects that.
“I think that baseball should be played with a cerebral approach, not too high or low emotionally,” said Palmer. “You just stay constant and consistent with it, and the guys have a little bit of confidence about themselves. They know that if we get chances late in games, we’re going to take advantage of them for the most part.”
The Blues will be back on the diamond this week with games against the divisional Worcester Bravehearts (10-10), Nashua Silver Knights (10-9), Brockton Rox (12-6), and divisional Pittsfield Suns (10-11). Bristol is currently 11-11 overall.
Loss vs. Pittsfield
JUNE 20—Bristol’s four-game winning streak was snapped after the Blues fell by a pair of runs, 13-11, to the Pittsfield Suns in extra innings at home on Tuesday.
After scoring at least one run through the first four innings, the Blues held a 10-5 advantage after the seventh inning, but the Suns rallied to tie the game and send the contest into extra innings with five runs on two wild pitches, a single, fielder’s choice, and walk in the eighth. Sean Phelan shot the Suns out in front with a base hit that drove in a run in the 10th. An RBI single by Alex Parkos and RBI double by Andre Marreo capped off the win for the Suns.
The Blues fell short with a run in the bottom of the inning. The Blues finished with 12 hits and three errors, including three home runs.
Nick Roy went 3-for-5 at the plate with two RBI, two runs scored, and a home run. Jeff Shanfeldt went 2-for-5 with four RBI, two runs scored, and two home runs. Ben Maycock went 2-for-4 with three RBI, two runs scored, and a home run.
Six different pitchers entered the game for the Blues. Tyler Kovalewich started on the mound and went five innings with five strikeouts, allowing seven hits, four earned runs, and four walks. Tommy Curtin (0-1) was credited with the loss after going one and two-thirds innings with three strikeouts, three hits, two earned runs, and a walk. Takoda Sitar (1-2) closed.
Win at Martha’s Vineyard
JUNE 21—The Blues bounced back the next day with a 9-6 victory at the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks. The Sharks held a 5-2 advantage after the fourth inning, but the Blues took the lead for good with seven runs in the sixth and seventh innings combined.
Logan Green (2-for-5) and Mark Tumosa (2-for-4) drove in a pair of runs with base hits, and Jake Frasca rounded out the sixth with a solo home run. In the seventh, Garret Blaylock (2-for-5) scored two with a double, and Nick Roy (3-for-5) capped off the win with a two-run home run.
Martha Vineyard’s rally came up short with a run in the eighth. The Blues finished with 15 hits and two errors.
David Stiehl (0-2) started on the mound and went four innings with three strikeouts, allowing six hits, four earned runs, and two walks. Takoda Sitar (1-2) started on the mound and picked up his first win of the season after relieving Stiehl to go four and two-thirds innings with five strikeouts, four hits, two walks, and an earned run. Ian Halpin closed to earn his first save of the season.
Losses at North Shore
JUNE 22—Thursday brought back-to-back losses in the same night when the Blues took a road trip to the North Shore Navigators.
The Blues rode on a bus for three and a half hours and a ferry for 45 minutes on their trip to Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday. The team didn’t get back to Bristol until about 3 a.m. the next morning. The Blues were back on the bus around 11:30 a.m. for a 4 p.m. start time in a doubleheader at North Shore, which included a two-and-a-half hour bus ride.
“That was a tough trip for us,” said Palmer. “The guys were tired, and I was tired for crying out loud. We got to the place and it was hot with maybe four or five people in the stands. It was very lackadaisical, and that’s just kind of how we went about things that whole day. We just didn’t have any energy.”
The Blues went scoreless in game one, 3-0. The Navigators posted a run off a base hit in the fourth inning and two off a triple and outfield error in the fifth.
The Blues mustered just two hits. Jacob Wallace (0-2) threw a complete game on the mound with four strikeouts, allowing five hits, three earned runs, and a walk.
The Blues lost game two by a count of 8-1. The Blues knotted the score at 1-1 with a run in the fourth, but the Navigators took the lead for good with seven runs in the fourth and fifth innings combined.
The Blues finished with six hits. Chris Davis went 2-for-3 at the plate with two doubles. Garrett Blaylock went 2-for-3 as well.
Keith Grant (0-1) started on the mound and was credited with the loss after going three and two-thirds innings, allowing seven hits, three earned runs, and two walks. John Natoli (2-0) relieved Grant to go an inning, and Brandon Fox closed.
Win vs. Martha’s Vineyard
JUNE 23—The Blues ended their two-game losing streak the next day with a one-run triumph, 7-6, over the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks at home.
“When we’re rested and ready to go, we could be a pretty good team,” said Palmer. “I just think that Thursday was just one of those days where a lot of teams wouldn’t have competed at a high level. There are moments in the season where you just look at it as tough scheduling.”
The Sharks held a 6-3 advantage until the Blues erupted for four runs in the bottom of the seventh inning. With no outs and runners on second and third, Mark Tumosa cut the deficit to a run after driving in a pair of runs with a base hit.
Nick Roy followed up by tying the game on an RBI single, and a batter later, Chris Davis hit the go-ahead run with a base knock. The Blues finished with eight hits and two errors.
Malachi Edmond (0-1) started on the mound and went five and two-thirds innings with three strikeouts, allowing 10 hits, five earned runs, and three walks. Anthony Morrone (2-1) relieved Edmond to pick up the win in one and one-third innings of work. Jake Frasca closed to get the save, tossing five strikeouts.
Win vs. Worcester
JUNE 24—The Blues followed up Friday’s victory with a second-straight win at home on Saturday by edging the Worcester Bravehearts by a run, 5-4, for the third time this season. After scattering runs through the first four innings, the Bravehearts held a 4-0 advantage until the Blues made a late charge.
Chris Davis started the rally after hitting into a fielder’s choice that drove in a run in the sixth. Jayson Gonzalez rounded out the inning by cutting the deficit to two with an RBI single that brought in Davis.
Garrett Blaylock led off the seventh with a base knock and advanced to second on an infield error. A single by Brandon Grover (2-for-3) pushed Blaylock over to third and a fielder’s choice by Josh Zbierski eventually sent him home, but Blaylock was called out on a close play at the plate.
“I think it was close,” said Palmer. “We were playing the ball through the infield because they were up. Garrett thought he could get there and made a read on his own. One thing we’ve let the guys do this summer is become the player they can be, play the game, and trust their instincts.”
Later in the seventh, Davis kept the rally going and brought the Blues to within one with a base hit that scored a run. With two outs and runners on second and third in the eighth, Nick Roy advanced to first on an errant throw from Worcester’s shortstop to first base and scored Grover and Zbierski for the go-ahead runs in the process.
“Roy’s pretty athletic,” the manager said. “He runs extremely well. When he put the ball in play where he put it, honestly, I thought he had a shot at getting to the bag just because of the type of athlete he is.”
With a full count and two outs with a runner on first in the top of the ninth, Greg Kocinski got on base with a single that advanced Pat Demarco to third. However, Demarco almost made it home to tie the game.
“He’s (Demarco) in motion when the pitch is delivered,” said Palmer. “Instead of just going to second base, he went first to third with the opportunity to almost round the bag and score with a ball to left field like that. But we got the ball in on time.”
Tommy Curtin (0-1) may have allowed runners on first and third with two outs in the ninth, but he managed to get his fourth save of the season with help from his defense. Gonzalez made a diving stop for a groundball at shortstop and flipped the ball to Mark Tumosa at second for the final out of the game.
Ross Weiner (2-0) started on the mound and went five innings with three strikeouts, allowing eight hits, three earned runs, and three walks. Anthony Morrone (3-1) relieved Weiner to pick up the win after going three innings.
Bristol finished with 11 hits and two errors. Logan Green went 3-for-4 at the plate with a run scored and a walk.
Win at Martha’s Vineyard
JUNE 25—Fifteen hits and five home runs earned the Blues their third-straight win and got them back to .500 on the season with a 13-8 victory at the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks the next day. After three meetings, the Blues remain undefeated against the Sharks thus far on the year. The Blues managed to hold an 8-1 advantage following the first two innings of play with six runs in the first, but secured the win by scattering runs over the next five innings.
Ben Maycock went 3-for-5 at the plate with a pair of RBI, a run scored, and a home run. Cooper Mrowka went 2-for-4 with four RBI, two runs scored, and a home run. Jake Frasca went 2-for-4 with three runs scored, two RBI, and a home run.
Kyle Hodgson (2-0) started on the mound and went four innings with three strikeouts, allowing nine hits, six earned runs, and a walk. John Natoli (3-0) relieved Hodgson to pick up the win after going four innings with four hits, two strikeouts, and an earned run. Ian Halpin closed.
The Bristol Blues are holding a Military Appreciation Night at Muzzy Field, Bristol at 7 p.m. on Monday, July 3. All members of the military– active or retired– get in free. There will be an opening ceremony with the American Legion Post No. 2 Honor Guard performing.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at bjennings@ southingtonobserver.com