SIMSBURY, July 16 – On the final day of the regular season, it was simple for the Simsbury American Legion baseball team. Defeat Bristol on its home field, win its first Zone 1 championship since 2008 and earn a bye in the final 16 round of the state tournament.
However, Bristol took advantage of a pair of Simsbury errors in the first inning and rapped out four hits to take a quick four-run lead. Visiting Post 2 never looked back in a 5-1 victory at Memorial Field.
Simsbury (22-7, 20-7 zone) is still qualified to participate in the state tournament but Post 84 will have to win two or three single-eliminate games to earn a berth in the final 16, which is a double-elimination style event.
“They came out and put a lot of pressure on us in the first inning,” Simsbury coach Thomas B. Vincent said. “The first guy hustled his way on and then their second hitter really put together a tough at bat and got a single that you couldn’t have placed in a better spot. That really got them going.”
Knowing it was his team’s final chance to clinch the zone title, Bristol skipper Dave Nocera was determined to push the action. Earlier in the week, Post 2 coughed up a one-run lead in the top of the seventh inning and eventually lost to Avon, 6-4 in eight innings.
Had Simsbury won, the two teams would have finished tied for first place with 21-6 record. Bristol would have lost the tiebreaker because Post 84 won two of three games. And if Avon won its final two games to finish 21-6 and create a three-way tie, they would have won their first-ever zone championship through a second tiebreaker.
Either way, if Bristol lost, the zone title was history.
“I fully intended to come out and be aggressive from the start,” Nocera said. “I knew it was important to get off to a good start.”
Bristol’s leadoff hitter Connor Hayes raced down the baseline and reached on a throwing error. Nocera put on a hit-and-run and Matt Bossi singled to put runners on first and third base. Tyler Bush followed with an RBI double for a 1-0 lead.
With one out, Steve Chamberland ripped an RBI single to centerfield for a 2-0 lead. Then, Simsbury hurler Jason Byers threw the ball away trying to pick Chamberland off first base, allowing another run in. Kyle Dube followed with a RBI single for a 4-0 lead.
After giving up a leadoff double in the second inning, Byers settled down, retiring 15 straight batters into the seventh inning, striking out five and allowing no hits. “That is the way he has been pitching this year,” Vincent said. “He had one bad inning and after that he was magnificent.”
Simsbury got little accomplished against Bristol’s Joey Randall, who allowed just two first inning hits and struck out five. After the first inning, he retired 12 of 14 batters. “We didn’t take our foot off the pedal and let them have a chance,” Nocera said.
In the first, Simsbury’s Nick Quattro singled and moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt. He took third on a single from Mike Gibbons. Quattro scored when Gibbons got caught in a rundown between first and second base to cut the lead to 4-1.
Bristol immediately responded in the second inning, extending its lead to 5-1 when Conor Fitzsimmons doubled and scored after a pair of sacrifice flies.
Post 2 earned its fourth straight zone title and its 12th championship in the last 15 years.
A balanced effort has helped Simsbury win over 20 zone games for the second time in the last five years. “I’m happy with the way the team has played,” Vincent said. “We’ve won a lot of close games. The effort has been there. I’m very proud of this group. It’s been a different guy each night. A new face comes up with a big play or a key hit.”
Simsbury kept its title hopes alive earlier last week by completing a suspended game with a 1-0 win over Avon in nine innings. The two teams played six innings in June before it was postponed by rain.
Last week, Byers pitched three scoreless innings, striking out one of Avon’s top hitters, Tyler D’Onofrio with a runner on third base in the eighth inning. In the ninth, Byers walked and scored on a two-out double from Andrew Girard.
Unfortunately for Simsbury, Avon jumped all over Post 84 in the regularly scheduled game, taking a 5-0 lead after one inning in an 8-2 defeat. Avon’s Chris Frask had a two-RBI double and Connor Doyle had a two-RBI single in the first inning. Frask had two doubles and three RBI in the win. Avon pitcher Matt Jadovich scattered three hits over six innings.
Simsbury rebounded and set up its shot at the title with a 2-0 win over Torrington the next night, taking advantage of a key throwing error in the fourth inning.