NEW BRITAIN - When New Britain leadoff hitter Sam Gervacio - normally a pitcher with the Bees - swung wildly at the first pitch offered by Stratford Brakettes pitcher Nocole Williams and missed badly, much to the delight of the mostly pro-softball crowd at New Britain Stadium, nearly everyone on both teams and in the stands had a good laugh and settled in for what was expected to be a fun-filled but mostly non-competitive game.
But like any pro athletes, even in an exhibition game, when the chance for victory presented itself in the late innings, the Bees wanted it.
A pair of walks to open the bottom of the ninth inning, followed by the only error of the game on an infield grounder to short, loaded the bases for New Britain with no outs. After a strikeout, Kyle Simon, also usually a pitcher for the Bees, hit a slow roller to the right side of the infield. With the ball hit too slow for a double play or to get the out at home, the Brakettes elected to concede the tying run and went for the out at first; but the ball was bobbled there, allowing catcher Anthony Aresco - one of two male softball veterans brought in to play for the Bees in the game, along with pitcher Nick French - to score from second with the game-winning run as New Britain walked off with a 3-2 victory.
“The first couple of innings, we’re trying to feel it out, we’re trying to have some fun, and then once it gets down to the late innings, we’re a bunch of competitive guys in this clubhouse and we wanted to win,” said Bees player and Plainville native Cody Charneski, who reached base on the error that loaded the bases in the ninth inning.
Against the first three Brakettes pitchers in the game - Williams, Raeanne Gettert and Kaycee Talcik - the Bees managed just one base runner: Jamar Walton, who hit a two-out double in the second inning but was thrown out trying to get back to second after not coming close as he attempted to stretch the hit into a triple. Nine New Britain batters struck out over the first six innings, including seven in a row during one stretch.
“Guys were having a tough time getting the bat on the ball,” Charneski said. “We have All-Stars on this team that were just struggling against these girls.”
The underhand pitching motion, combined with pitches that baseball players don’t normally see, like the riseball and drop ball, left the Bees struggling to make contact in the early going.
“It creates havoc for us, really. It’s such a different look than what we’re used to,” Charneski said. “It’s difficult for us to pick up and it takes a little bit of an adjustment, but we had a tough time adjusting to these girls. They’re obviously very, very good at their craft.”
Despite loading the bases with one out in the fourth inning, the Brakettes were also unable to score until Briana Marcelino blasted a two-run homer over the left field fence in the top of the seventh for a 2-0 Stratford lead.
After his base running misadventure earlier in the game, Walton redeemed himself by hitting a one-out infield single of former UMass pitching star Brandice Balschmiter, then stealing second and taking third on a bad throw from the catcher. He scored on a two-out single by Ozney Guillen to cut the lead in half, at 2-1.
While Sunday’s game was the first between the Brakettes and the Bees, the legendary Stratford softball team that competes in the women’s major division of the Amateur Softball Association and owns 28 national titles, had previously played four annual games against the Atlantic League’s Bridgeport Bluefish, which folded after last season when the City of Bridgeport decided to use the Bluefish’s stadium for other purposes. The Brakettes beat the Bluefish last year after losing the first three games in the series.
“We’re always looking to have fun when we come out and be able to play a game, but we have a tremendous amount of respect for these girls and what they do, and just how difficult it is,” Charneski said. “For us to come out as professionals and play against them and realize at what a high level they play at, it’s unbelievable.”
For the fastpitch softball exhibition, the bases were set at 60 feet apart and the pitcher’s circle was placed 43 feet from the plate.
With an announced crowd of 3,254 for Sunday night’s game, well above the Bees’ official average attendance this season of 2,840, it’s likely that last night’s “Battle of the Sexes” will continue to be an annual tradition in New Britain.
“The result doesn’t matter. The most important thing is that we had a good time, they had a good time, and it was a great experience for all of us,” Charneski said.
Paul Angilly can be reached at 860-973-1800, or email@example.com