By KEVIN ROBERTS
The Bristol Blues finished third in the standings in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League of New England, which earned them a No. 3 seed in the playoffs.
Bristol didn’t get a bye, but it did earn a home game against the No.6 Pittsfield Suns on Aug. 6. The Blues won that game at Muzzy Field behind good pitching, solid defense and one big inning with the bats.
That was the last win of the season for Bristol. The Blues ran into a good No. 2 Worcester Bravehearts team and dropped two straight games to finish the 2018 campaign with an overall record of 30-25.
AUG. 6—Bristol did everything head coach Ronnie Palmer wanted it to do in a 4-0 play-in victory over Pittsfield on a hot, muggy night at Muzzy Field.
Starting pitcher Michael Genaro was good for 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball, the defense didn’t make a single error, and the Blues had a big four-run fifth inning on offense.
Genaro gave up four hits, struck out three and walked two over 6 2/3 innings. Justin Rouse threw the last 2 1/3 innings and struck out three without allowing a hit. Dylan Reynolds set the tone defensively with a great diving catch in left field on a ball hit by the second batter of the game for Pittsfield.
“When we throw strikes and make plays defensively, you can feel the energy kind of building in the dugout,” Palmer said. “To make the play in an elimination game and allow us to get the lead first, I think that speaks volumes.”
It took the Bristol offense until the fifth inning to generate a run against Pittsfield starter Izaiya Mestre, then the Blues got to him for four runs. Bristol hitters started working counts, then became aggressive on the basepaths as runners. That was the plan all along, though it didn’t fully materialize until the fifth.
Peyton Stephens led off with an infield single and reached second on the same play when the throw to first sailed out of play for an error. Alex Baumann grounded to short for the first out, but Stephens moved to third base. Stephens scored on a wild pitch with Andrew Hague at bat to give the Blues a 1-0 lead. Hague walked, and so did Ian Ostberg. Alex Loparco scored them both with a two-run double down the third base line, then took third on an overthrow of home plate. Loparco scored on Dylan Reynolds’ single to make it 4-0.
Genaro took the lead and ran with it until two outs in the seventh inning, when he was pulled for Rouse. No one other than the veteran left-hander was getting the ball for the play-in game.
“We knew it was going to be tough for us to finish first or second, so we knew we were going to be in [this] game,” Palmer said. “We started planning for Mike to do this a couple weeks ago.”
Loparco was 3-for-4 with a double, two RBI and a run scored, and Justyn-Henry Malloy added two hits.
AUG. 7—After an emotional win over Pittsfield the night before, Bristol traveled to Worcester’s Hanover Insurance Park at Fitton Field for Game 1 of a best-of-three semifinal series.
The Blues had a 2-1 lead entering the bottom of the third inning, but the Bravehearts scored three runs to move ahead for good. Worcester led 8-3 entering the ninth inning, then held on for an 8-6 victory and a 1-0 series lead.
Justyn-Henry Malloy went 3-for-4 with two doubles and two RBI to lead the Bristol offense. Jimmy Sullivan (2 RBI), Alex Loparco (2 runs scored, 1 RBI), Ian Ostberg (1 run scored) and Dylan Reynolds (1 run scored) each had two hits. After the two-run third inning, the Blues didn’t score again until the eighth inning. Bristol tallied a single run in the eighth before scoring three times in the ninth.
Michael DeLease was tagged with the loss after pitching the first 4 1/3 innings. He gave up five runs on seven hits, struck out three and walked two.
AUG. 8—Bristol returned to Muzzy Field for Game 2, but Worcester spoiled the homecoming, won the game 11-5 and swept the series.
“Just missed opportunities early on, and we just walked too many guys, gave up too many runs,” Palmer said. “Those last two innings, we just had to chase too many runs.”
Like Game 1, Bristol was within striking distance in the ninth inning. The Blues trailed 8-5, but the Bravehearts tacked on three runs for an insurmountable 11-5 lead and put the game away.
The Blues were ahead 1-0 after two innings, but the Bravehearts struck for three runs in the top of the third to lead 4-3. Bristol came back for three runs in the bottom of the third for a 4-3 advantage, but two more runs in the top of the fourth from Worcester put the visitors on top 5-4. The Blues tied the game 5-5 in the bottom of the fourth, only to see the Bravehearts move ahead for good, 6-5, in the top of the fifth.
Bristol left the bases loaded in the fourth inning, then did it again in the fifth after starting the threat with no outs.
“I think that’s the biggest thing,” Palmer said. “Early on, we left bases loaded a couple times. The one time with bases loaded no outs, the pitcher struck out the side.”
Dylan Reynolds was 2-for-5 with a double and three RBI to lead the Blues. Alex Loparco added two hits and a run scored, and Teddy Hague collected two hits.
Seven Bristol pitchers combined for 12 walks and 15 hits given up. Adam Riggleman took the loss for the Blues
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com.