NEWINGTON - The Newington baseball team rolled into its matchup with Platt on Friday having won four of its last five games, with all four wins coming in abbreviated contests due to mercy rule and a combined score of 53-2.
Once the Panthers began swinging the bats, Newington realized this game wouldn’t be so easy.
Platt pushed across five runs in the first two innings and capitalized on a tri of Indians throwing errors to hand Newington a 7-3 loss and snap the team’s three-game winning streak. John Pyne tossed five stellar innings in relief for the Indians to keep the Panthers (8-7) at bay, but three unearned runs proved to be a major difference.
“[Platt] came out strong today,” catcher Gunnar Johnson said after notching a three-hit game. “We have to come in with a swag and confidence against these good teams. We may have mercy ruled a couple teams, but we have to flip a switch and play at a higher level.”
Normally, the Newington defense plays at a high level, but it was clear from the start that the Indians’ defense was not nearly as sharp as head coach Ben Alaimo has known them to be this season.
Starting pitcher Mike Sobolewski dug the Indians (11-4) into an immediate hole in the top of the first when Platt put runners at the corners. Sobolewski had a chance to nab Jake Baker off of first on a quick pickoff move, but the righthander airmailed the throw to first, allowing Ethan Dudley to score and Baker to advance to second.
The trouble continued for Sobolewski when he bounced a 58-foot breaking ball that trickled away from Johnson, prompting Baker to take off for third. Johnson fired an errant throw to the foul side of third base, allowing Baker to score all the way from first after a pair of throwing errors by Newington’s battery.
The Indians fought back in the bottom of the first, staging a rally after a leadoff walk to Ethan Errera, who promptly stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error by catcher Jack Clancy. After a walk to Zack Nakonechny, Johnson drove in Errara with a sharp single through the shortstop hole, logging his sixth RBI in the last 12 innings and cutting the Indians’ deficit in half.
Newington appeared ticketed for a game-tying double when Jack Kelley launched a deep drive into the right center field gap. Covering an enormous amount of ground, the center fielder, Dudley, laid out to make a full-extension diving catch to the glove side, sparking an eruption from the Panthers bench and ending an inning that lasted more than 45 minutes.
Still fired up after the Dudley catch, Platt went right back to work in the top of the second, pushing across three runs on a two-run double by Baker and an RBI single by Peyton Theil to give the Panthers a 5-1 lead.
Sobolewski’s day was done after allowing four hits in the second inning, on the heels of a no-hit performance in his last start on Apr. 29.
After a pair of scoreless innings from Pyne, the Indians began to chip away in the bottom of the fourth. Kelley led off with a double to right field, and advanced on an infield single by Sobolewski, who just beat out a throw from third. A double steal set the table for Jordan Brunetti, who lifted a sacrifice fly to center to score Kelley and advance Sobolewski to third. Sobolewski followed Kelley home on the next at-bat, when Pyne ripped an RBI single to center field to cut the deficit to 5-3 and compliment his solid pitching performance.
“I thought it went pretty well,” Pyne said. “I haven’t pitched in a while, but I think I did well against a really good hitting team.”
Just when the Indians appeared to be drawing closer, disaster struck in the top of the fifth in the form of another throwing error. Pyne appeared to be heading for another scoreless frame, holding a runner on second with two outs, when he forced Aaron Nieves to hit a weak grounder to third. Brunetti fielded the bouncer cleanly but threw it past Kelley and to the fence behind third base to allow a run to score. Andrew McCarty delivered more punishment with a double over the head of Errera in center to push the Platt lead right back to four.
“I think he got down a little late and was shocked the ball was in his glove,” Alaimo said of the costly error. “He was out of tempo and he rushed it.”
Newington put the leadoff man on in the fifth and sixth innings but came up empty, despite a valiant, hold-the-fort performance from Pyne.
“That gets frustrating,” Johnson said. “It’s part of the game, but we need results there. You’re not always going to get hits, but we have to get some of those runs across there.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org