BRISTOL - Newington baseball head coach Ben Alaimo preaches three aspects of the game that his Indians have to excel at if they want to be successful. The team has to be selfless, intelligent and mentally tough.
So when Newington fell behind 2-0 in the first inning at Bristol Eastern on Friday afternoon and faced the team’s first deficit in four games, it was time for the Indians to flex that third key aspect on Alaimo’s checklist.
“Coach always says we have to be mentally tough, and flush everything from the previous inning,” Newington center fielder Ethan Errera said. “It’s a new inning, and we just have to go back out there and do our thing.”
The Indians made their coach happy by pushing across six runs in the top of the first to set the tone for a 9-2 win, the team’s fourth in a row. Meanwhile, starting pitcher Jack Kelley settled down after the rocky first inning to throw six scoreless and allow just three hits the rest of the way.
“They kind of had my number to start off,” Kelley said. “They held the count really well. But after that inning I was able to control the ball and command the corners for most of the game.”
After starting the season 5-0, the Lancers have dropped two straight and had no answers for Kelley after a promising opening frame.
“We had no energy offensively,” Eastern head coach Mike Giovinazzo said.
The Lancers appeared to have energy in the bottom of the first, loading the bases with two outs after an infield single by James Dauphinee. With the bags full, Noah Hickey poked a single up the middle to score Jack Kozikowski and Anthony Marrotti to give Eastern a 2-0 lead.
The two runs in the first for the Lancers were the first that Newington surrendered in three games, having last let a runner touch home on April 12 against Bristol Central.
The Indians answered back in a big way, batting around in a six-run second inning that came with its share of controversy.
After Newington tied the game at 2 with back-to-back free passes by Eastern starter Trevor Mays with the bases loaded, Ryan Sandon stepped in and lined a base hit down the right field line, heading toward the fence in foul ground. Lancers right fielder Ian Latko raised his arms after trying to dig the ball out from the base of the fence to signal a ground rule double, but the umpires let play continue as the bases emptied and Sandon cruised into third. A confused Eastern team watched three runs score on the triple by Sandon, and the Indians had a 5-2 lead.
“The kid put his hands up to signal a ground rule double, and they didn’t say dead, so he picked it up,” Giovinazzo explained. “Once he does, it becomes in play. But it was only two runs. It really had nothing to do with the [end result].”
Newington continued its monster inning when Sandon scored off an RBI single by Gunnar Johnson, the ninth batter of the inning. When the inning finally ended, Mays had faced 10 batters, allowed three hits and three walks, and an error at second base by Andrew Lozier on a potential double play ball let a simmering rally turn into a rapid boil.
“We opened the gates for them,” Giovinazzo said. “We had an easy out at second and didn’t get it.”
Meanwhile, Kelley cruised after a bumpy first inning. He escaped a minor jam in the third when the Lancers put two runners on with one out after a pair of singles by Kozikowski and Marrotti, and Kelley responded with two straight outs, including a strikeout of Jacobi Bouchard to end the threat. He allowed just one hit the rest of the way.
“He was bringing heat and mixing it up with us,” Hickey said. “We couldn’t seem to settle on his first pitch fastball.”
As Kelley continued to get outs, the Newington bats continued to build a healthy lead.
In the top of the sixth, a fielder’s choice and an error allowed Pyne to advance to third, and he was later driven in by a single to right by Errera. An error on the mound by relief pitcher Bouchard, a stolen base and a wild pitch allowed Errrera to score to stretch the lead to 9-2, completing a swift swing of momentum that made the first inning feel like a distant memory.
“I knew when you play [Giovinazzo] and Bristol Eastern, you’re in for a war,” Alaimo said. “I was happy my team was resilient, bounced back and answered with a zero in the second. Once that happened, the energy and the momentum seemed to change.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org