CANTON, Aug. 13 – You can see the signs of autumn approaching.
Most baseball teams have packed away the bats, gloves and baseballs. Sidelines and other key lines have been painted on Bowdoin Field for the approaching high school soccer season and the weeds are growing tall in the Bowdoin Field batting cage.
Still, the baseball diamond looked sharp. The lawn was cut and the baselines looked crisp and clean, free of weeds. There was still baseball to be played as the Canton Crushers hosted Waterbury’s East Mountain Cougars in a long-delayed Tri-State League contest.
The regular season ended about three weeks ago and the Tri-State playoffs have about one week remaining. But the two teams wanted another opportunity to do what they love – play baseball. Canton’s veteran pitcher Jim Spirito struck out 11 and pitched a complete game to lead the Crushers to a satisfying 3-2 victory over the Cougars.
Spirito pitched out of a seventh inning jam to secure the win. East Mountain (1-16) had the bases loaded with two outs but Spirito struck out Cougar pitcher Mike Bones on three pitches to secure the victory – Canton’s second straight win. The Crushers beat East Mountain over three weeks ago, 4-1, on July 22.
“It was a great day to play baseball,” Crushers manager Tom Dubois said. “We really didn’t have to play but everyone wanted to. We’re starting to come together as a group.”
Canton (2-16) played well in their final four games of the season. They had 11 hits but couldn’t hold the lead in a 5-4 loss to Burlington. The Crushers had a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning on the road in Amenia, N.Y., but had to forfeit when a player got hurt and had to leave the game. Canton didn’t have the required nine players to continue. Canton had just two hits but converted on several opportunities to beat East Mountain, 4-1 as pitcher Miguel Sanchez struck out nine and scattered three hits.
Canton was the visiting team since this contest was originally scheduled to be played in Waterbury and the Cougars couldn’t secure a field. It was been postponed several times by rain. The Crushers took a 2-0 lead in the top of the third inning.
With two outs, second baseman Ben Sullivan singled to left field and stole second base. He gave Canton a 1-0 lead, scoring on a single from Spirito to right field. Shortstop Jake Bryant followed with a double to right field, moving Spirito to third base. Chris VandeBogart ripped a single to right field, scoring Spirito from third base for a 2-0 lead.
Bryant had an outstanding day at the plate. He was 4-for-4 with a double and one RBI. He finished the season with doubles in his last four games.
Bryant had hoped to pitch at Eastern Connecticut State University this spring but it didn’t work out. As a pitcher, he hadn’t hit for several years. “My swing was all messed up,” he said. But he worked with Steve Richards, his old high school hitting coach and had his swing straightened out after three buckets of baseballs.
Spirito had the game in control through six innings. He scattered three hits and walked just one batter.
Canton added a crucial insurance run in the top of the seventh inning. Again with two outs, Ben Sullivan and Spirito coaxed walks to put two runners on base. Sullivan scored from second on a RBI single from Bryant for a 3-0 advantage.
East Mountain got some life in the bottom of the seventh inning when Spirito walked the first two batters. East Mountain’s Tyler Campbell hit a line drive to Crusher third baseman Chris Colon for the first out. But an error by Colon allowed one run to score and left runners on first and third base.
A double into shallow center field by the Cougars’ Brandon Black cut the Canton lead to 3-2 and put runners on second and third base with one out.
Spirito struck out East Mountain’s Mike Macovy but loaded the bases on a walk to leadoff hitter Anthony Moura. Spirito ended the drama by striking out Bones on three pitches.
“I lost it for a while and couldn’t find it,” Spirito said. “But I settled in and adjusted. It wasn’t nerves as much as my body was fatigued. I tried to concentrate on the fundamentals.”
Sullivan had two singles while centerfielder Sean Drury had a single. Canton made just two errors.
“This was the best we’ve played all year,” Bryant said. “We’ve had a good time. We have a bunch of guys who want to be here and play baseball.”
For Canton, it was a great way to end the baseball season and their second year in the Tri-State League. “I didn’t hold anything back,” Spirito said. “Who knows? It could be your last game ever. You never know. I like to play every game that way.”
And, he smiled. There were lot of smiles as the Crushers packed up their gear.
Canton 3, East Mountain 2
Canton (2-16) 002 000 1 – 3-9-2
East Mt. (1-16) 000 000 2 – 2-5-2
Jim Spirito and Jeff Mulhall; Mike Bones and Matt Delucia; WP: Spirito (1-9); LP: Bones; 2B: Jake Bryant (C), Brandon Black (EM); 3B: none; HR: none