ROCKY HILL - Down to their final two outs, the Newington Little League baseball team looked all but done. But Gaby Tirado became an instant hero.
With the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth and his team down 5-3, Tirado hit a walk-off grand slam to left-center field, giving Newington a dramatic 7-4 victory over Mystic at Elm Ridge Park in Rocky Hill Wednesday night in the Section 3 tournament.
“I knew I had a chance to do something great,” Tirado said. “I had a chance to do something I had never done before, hit a walk-off grand slam. The guys ahead of me got hits and walked, giving me the spotlight to do what I needed to do. That was the best moment of my Little League career, by far.”
It was Tirado’s second home run of the game. He hit a solo shot to lead off the fifth inning. In all, the Newington catcher went 3-for-4 with five RBI.
Bench players also had a big role in Newington’s win. Colin Ackerly had a key pinch-hit, RBI triple in the third inning to score the team’s first run. Ben Peronace also picked up a single in the sixth inning, which helped lead to the game-winner.
For Newington head coach Tom Tolisano, he was proud of his team’s ability to fight back, especially after being down for most of the game.
“We needed a break,” Tolisano said. “We had the bases loaded in the first inning. We had a man in scoring position in the second inning. We were hitting the ball hard. It just wasn’t getting by [Mystic]. We chipped away in the fourth. We chipped away in the fifth. We had great at-bats in the sixth from Alex Cucuta, Ben Peronace and Adam [Alexander]. And then obviously, we got the hit we needed [from Tirado].”
On the mound, it was a mix-and match game for Newington. The team used three pitchers in total, with Jack Stair getting the start. Stair lasted three innings, giving up four hits and three runs, while striking out four batters.
“The coaches and I strategically came up with a plan,” Tolisano said. “We stayed with the plan. We wanted [Stair] to pitch 50 pitches so he can go Saturday. So we came up with a plan, and it worked.”
The middle of the lineup was crucial for Mystic. Peyton Neale was the star of the game for the oppostion in the three-spot of the lineup. He went 3-for-4 in the game with two RBI, including a solo home run in the first inning to get the scoring going. Sidhaard Bulusu was a tough out for Mystic as well. He went 3-for-4 with an RBI.
Newington did have a scare in the top of the fifth inning when Mystic’s Trace Morales hit a line drive off the arm of Newington relief pitcher San Drozd. The pitcher was on the ground, visibly for in pain, for nearly five minutes. After the game, Tolisano said Drozd was taken to the hospital and is cautiously optimistic of Drozd’s condition.
“He’s a tough kid, so I think he’s going to be OK,” Tolisano said.
The win means that Newington has a day off before they face off against District 9 champion, Madison, Thursday night. A win would guarantee Newington a chance to play for the Section 3 championship.
“I’m very excited for [Thursday],” Tirado said. “I definitely think it’s going to be a great matchup. It’s going to be pedal-to-the-medal. We are going to try to floor the gas on them. We want to do everything we can to win and go back to the State Championship.”