BRISTOL - When Bristol Blues players took the field in game one of their semifinal matchup with the North Shore Navigators in the FCBL playoffs on Tuesday, there was a noticeable tension.
Judging by body language, there seemed to be a tightness or nervousness as they began their quest to end the organization’s three-year run of semifinal exits, and it showed. Or … perhaps not.
“I don’t think it was any nerves or tightness,” Blues third baseman Buddy Dewaine said. “Some days you just don’t come to the baseball field and perform, and I think that’s what we did that day. [North Shore] just took more opportunities that needed to be taken, and we didn’t take as many opportunities as they did to win the game.”
Nerves or not, something was off about the Blues in game one. They weren’t their normal, jovial selves, and it translated into huge missed opportunities in a 3-1 loss to send them to a 1-0 series deficit in the best-of-three format.
The loss parlayed into game two, where the Blues found themselves trailing 6-0 after two innings on the road in Lynn, Mass., and that’s when things truly began to unravel.
Intrasquad fighting ensued between the Blues as tensions continued boiling over, and some players began screaming at each other on the field and in the dugout during the breakdown.
“It’s just a long, grueling season,” Dewaine said. “That happens when you’re losing. It’s tough to lose.”
Things didn’t get better right away, the Blues eventually trailing 7-2 entering the seventh inning, but whatever it was - a sudden surge of togetherness, talent coming to the forefront, a stubborn refusal to lose - something clicked.
Dewaine told some of his teammates they weren’t done yet. That they were still going to “end up winning this game somehow, and we’re gonna be here for six more hours, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Six hours may have been an exaggeration, but the rally wasn’t.
Kasey Bass, Jordan Laske and John Orzechowski reached to spark the rally, and Kyle Maves punched a two-run single to third base for a 7-5 deficit. Brandon Miller then trimmed North Shore’s lead to one and set the stage for Dewaine.
The CCSU junior belted an RBI triple to left field to tie the game, and Zeke Diamond’s infield single scored Dewaine for a decisive lead.
Roughly an hour later, the Blues had polished off a 12-7 victory with three runs in the eighth and another in the ninth to make the 2-hour, 40-minute bus trip back to Bristol a much happier experience.
“We just came together at the end because we didn’t wanna go home,” Blues/CCSU catcher Sam Loda said.
“We were a little toxic as a team,” Dewaine said. “We had to figure some things out, and we came together as a team. Finally, I said we were gonna win this game, down 6-0, and we came back. I don’t know how. We just swung the bat very well. We put the ball in play, and we just played baseball.”
Losing game one, Dewaine says, was a similar feeling to when he and Loda’s Blue Devils team lost to Bryant University in the second game of the Northeast Conference tournament in late May to put itself on the brink of elimination.
But after beating Wagner College the next day, Dewaine says the team “just had the mentality of, ‘why not just keep winning it all? We’re not going home now. Let’s just win it all.’”
The Blue Devils did win it all, at least the conference tournament, winning the next three games to advance to the NCAA Tournament, where it won the first national tourney game in program history.
“When we played in the tournament, I just had fun the whole time,” Dewaine said. “You’ve gotta just enjoy the moment and you have fun. It’s hard to lose when you have a smile on your face. It really is.”
After the momentous rally, the Blues were certainly having more fun, and that was obvious to see Thursday evening.
In stark contrast to game one, the players had much more of a bounce in their step taking the field for game three. Despite the win-or-go-home pressure, the Blues seemed relaxed.
And though some momentum was snatched away because of a lengthy rain delay, Bristol stayed together, rallied from a 3-0 third-inning deficit to win 8-5.
Now the Blues are in the FCBL championship series that begins Saturday against either the Brockton Rox or Worcester Bravehearts.
“We’re already here. Let’s win the whole thing,” Loda said. “We wanna win it. We wanna win a title here.”
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or