MIDDELTOWN - The Berlin baseball team had flexed its muscles at the plate all through the Class L state tournament. The top-seeded Redcoats had scored at least seven runs in each game heading into Friday night’s state championship against No. 15 Waterford.
But Berlin hadn’t faced Lancers starter Jared Burrows, who shut the lights out on the Redcoats’ bid for a first state championship since 2005.
Burrows outdueled Berlin’s Adam Bilinsky in a thrilling pitching performance, allowing just three hits and striking out eight to hand Berlin a 1-0 loss at Palmer Field.
Bilisnky had matched Burrows pitch-for-pitch, allowing just three hits through six innings before a seemingly harmless blooper to right in the top of the seventh by Sonny Pezzello scooted past a diving Nick Melville, allowing Pezzello to advance to second. Cadin Maynard followed with a single up the middle to score the only run of the game.
Burrows pitched a perfect seventh to shut the door on the Redcoats.
Burrows actually ran into trouble for Waterford in the bottom of the second, allowing the first two runners to reach after breezing through a seven-pitch inning in the first. Paul D’Amore led off for Berlin and rocked a double to the wall in center, and Jeff Kuzoian followed with a walk. Tom Hyjek tried to advance the runners with a sacrifice bunt, but popped it up to first base for the first out. Burrows settled in to strike out Nick Melville and Justin Piskorski to end the early threat and keep the game scoreless.
“We made two mistakes today,” Redcoats head coach Leo Veleas said. “One was not executing the bunt. If you want to win, you have to execute. That’s what cost us the game. But they worked their butts off. They’re a great bunch of kids.”
Bilinsky cruised through his first three innings of work after an ineffective start in his first outing of the tournament. Bilinsky walked the leadoff batter on four pitches in the top of the first but induced a 4-6-3 double play on the next pitch, sparking a stretch of 11 straight batters to be retired, with four coming by way of strikeout.
Unfortunately for Berlin, Burrows settled in as well, retiring nine straight after the walk to Kuzoian in the second, including four strikeouts, sending the lightning-paced game to the fifth, still scoreless.
The Lancers finally got in the hit column in the top of the fifth with a leadoff single by Sonny Pezzello, who later stole second with two outs despite Berlin sniffing out the steal attempt with a pitch out that was mishandled at second base. Connor Podeszwa followed with a hard grounder off Bilinsky’s glove for a single to put runners at the corners, but Bilinsky forced Anthony Tonucci to fly out to right to escape his first jam of the evening.
“I was just throwing strikes and letting my defense pick me up behind me,” Bilinsky said. “They made a bunch of plays for me.”
The Redcoats took their turn for a rally in the bottom of the fifth thanks to back-to-back singles from Piskorski and Holden Murphy with two outs to bring up the top of the order. Gianni Fanelli quickly fell behind 0-2 before tapping a slow roller to short. Fanelli hustled down the line for a close play at first, but the umpire ruled him out to end the inning.
“I think there was just a series of events tonight that we couldn’t push through,” Bilinski said.
Berlin tried to push, but it consistently met a wall in the form of Burrows, who blocked the Redcoats in their charge for a state title.
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 80-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org