By KEN MORSE
The Bristol Blues began the second half of the season the way they had hoped for, battling back twice to defeat the North Shore Navigators 6-4 on July 19. Since then the boys in Blue have been in a struggle with both the FCBL opponents and the weather.
The third place Blues finished up a three-game home stand on Friday July 27 that was marked by a pair of losses to the fourth place Brockton Rox— in between a solid week of rain.
Last Tuesday saw Bristol battle back twice to tie the Rox in the ninth but eventually lose a 5-4 game decided by the Home Run Derby rule after a scoreless 10th inning.
Rainouts cancelled games last Sunday against Nashua and again on Wednesday versus Pittsfield while the first place Sharks and the second place Bravehearts continued to gain ground in the standing, with the top two teams in the league gaining byes into the semifinal round of the playoffs.
Losing games on the field is one thing but losing games on the schedule when the season is down to the final nine games has cost the Blues a chance to gain one of the top two spots.
Now Bristol is in a race to gain home field advantage in a win or go home single elimination first round playoff game. The Blues took a further hit last Friday dropping a 5-2 decision to the Rox who are closing in just three games behind in the loss column to Bristol.
“We are working on getting one of those cancelled games back,” said Bristol GM Brian Rooney. “The plan is to play a double-header with Pittsfield in our final home game of the season on Thursday, Aug. 2.”
“The other make-up game will depend on if it needs to be played based on the standings and we will go from there.”
Bristol is one of the road warriors in the FCBL with a 14-7 mark on the road along with the Sharks at 14-5 and the Bravehearts sporting a 15-7 record away from home.
The Blues embark on a five game road trip hoping to close the gap before they return home for the final home game of the season on Thursday, Aug. 2. They take on Nashua Saturday and will be at the Bravehearts on Sunday with a return matchup against the Rox on Monday. The road trip concludes with games on Tuesday at Pittsfield and on Wednesday against Nashua.
Kelvin Sosa took the hill last Friday and set the Rox down in order in the first highlighted by two strikeouts. It was an uphill battle from there when Zack Gelof led off the second with a triple and scored on a single from Rich Sobalvarro.
The Blues plated runs in their first two at bats scoring in the first when Alex Loparco reached on an error and pulled into second base on a steal. Richard Brereton drove in the run with a single and in the second inning Jim Sullivan sent Peyton Stephens across the plate on a base hit.
The 2-1 Bristol lead was short lived when Sobalvarro struck again ripping a two run bases loaded single to give Brockton a 3-2 advantage after three innings.
Jason Hebner (3.1 IP, 5 H, 2R) came on to relieve Sosa (2.2 IP, 6H, 3R, 3 K’s) and the Rox tacked on two more runs in the in the sixth to take a 5-2 lead. Charlie Maxwell delivered an RBI double and Joe Lomuscio sent a run across the plate with a deep sacrifice fly to center.
The Blues did show some resolve on the defensive end with Ostberg (third base) and Andrew Hague (second base) robbing Brockton of run scoring hits spearing line shots to end uprisings.
Two runners were also thrown out at the plate when Ostberg fielded a hard grounder with the bases loaded in the second inning firing a strike to catcher Bryce Ramsey and in the fourth when Brereton cut down Maxwell from left field trying to score from second base on a base hit.
But the Blues’ offense squandered two men on scenarios in both the fifth and sixth innings before relief pitcher Ben Shields (3 IP, 0 H, OR, 2K’s) came on to slam the door closed.
Loparco and Brereton hit singles in the fifth but a pop out in the infield ended the would-be rally. Sullivan and Alex Baumann hit back-to-back singles in the sixth but the rally never materialized when a strikeout and a fly out to left had the Blues come up empty.
“I think we have solid pitching heading towards the playoffs,” said Rooney. “The hitting needs to come around a little bit. We’ve had opportunities to score and these kids are playing hard everyday and that’s all anyone can ask of them.”
Following Thursday’s final home game with Pittsfield, the Blues will finish the regular season schedule on the road at North Shore on Friday August 3 and Sunday at Pittsfield. The one game playoff will take place on Monday Aug. 6 at the home of the third and fourth place teams taking on the fifth and sixth place teams.
The semifinal series will be the best of three with the winners of the one game playoffs taking on the Sharks and the Bravehearts. The winners of the semifinals will then meet up for a best of three series for the FCBL championship.
“The attendance has been great,” added Rooney. “The city of Bristol is supporting us and we’ve had a couple of promotions that were cancelled due to the weather. We are looking forward to doing even more promotions next season.”