CANTON, July 24, 2021 – There were new colorful uniforms in the dugout of the Winsted Whalers baseball team this summer and a larger sense of commitment, too.
The Whalers incorporated blue and bright neon yellow into the uniform to pay homage to The Gilbert School and some red to pay homage to Northwestern Regional along with the traditional logo made famous by the National Hockey League’s Hartford Whalers in their 18-year stay in Connecticut that ended in 1997.
There is a renewed sense of commitment on this Winsted squad that won their first Tri-State League playoff game since 2013 with a victory over the Canton Crushers on Friday night.
“Everybody shows up that has been the big thing this year,” Winsted catcher Chester Warner said. “We have 14-to-15 guys every game committed to playing baseball. It’s been fantastic. Guys can play different positions and they can play them well. Everyone hits.”
In previous years, the Whalers weren’t quite sure who would be on the field for the game. “That was our achilles heel in the past. We would have just nine guys show up,” he said. “But this year, everyone is here for every game and we have been able to put a quality team on the field over and over.”
Winsted swept the best-of-3 playoff series from Canton with a pair of victories this weekend. The Whalers beat Canton, 7-2 on Friday night at Walker Field and completed the sweep on Saturday morning with a 4-1 decision at Bowdoin Field.
Winsted, the No. 5 seed, advances to face either Bethlehem or the Torrington Rebels in round two next weekend.
The Tri-State League began using best-of-three series for each round of the playoffs in 2014. Until this weekend, Winsted had lost in their last four playoff appearances. The most recent appearance was in 2018.
This year, they got solid pitching from Austin Brochu on Friday night and Mitch Gryniuk on Saturday. Brochu allowed just four hits on Friday while Gryniuk allowed just three on Saturday.
“We were able to capitalize on some big hits in the middle of our order,” Warner said. “Our pitchers did a good job of keeping Canton off balance because they have some good hitters, especially among their top six. They did a good job of controlling them.”
Canton (4-15) was making their first-ever playoff appearance.
In game one, the Crushers took a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning. Jim Spirito and Sean Bahre reached base on back-to-back walks. Both scored after a single from Braedon Bean and two Winsted errors in the inning.
Winsted (11-8) tied the game at 2-2 with a run in the fifth inning and broke it open in the sixth inning with five runs thanks to three hits, two walks and two Crusher errors.
Winsted’s Jay Torres had a great opening game by going 3-for-4 with a double while teammate T.J. Kent was 2-for-4 with a double and a single. The Whalers had 10 hits in game one and nine hits in game two.
On Saturday, a pair of home runs in the fourth inning enabled Winsted to take a comfortable 4-0 lead. Brochu led off with a single and scored on John Lippincott’s two-run home run to right field. With one out in the inning, Torres blasted a solo home run to right field for a four-run advantage for the visitors.
Lippincott finished the day by going 3-for-3 at the plate with a single, double, home run and two RBI. Teammate Tim Smith was 2-for-3 with an RBI double in the second inning.
Winsted pitcher Mitch Gryniuk kept Canton’s offense in check. Canton had runners at second and third base in the top of the second inning but Gryniuk got James Michanczyk to ground out to third baseman Lukas Gryniuk, who fired home to throw out Sean Bahre from third base for the second out of the inning.
Canton’s Mike Sullivan beat out an infield single to load the bases but Mitch Gryniuk got Cam Gaudet to ground out to second base to end the threat.
Sullivan walked in the fifth inning and scored on Taylor Riley’s RBI double to cut the lead to 4-1.
“We came in as a lower seed we hung with a team that beat us earlier in the year,” Bahre said. “We had our chances to win the (first) game and it came down to the last inning in the first game and we made (some) errors. “
Canton was the No. 12 seed in the 13-team playoff bracket.
“(On Saturday), we hit the ball hard we hung with them the whole time,” Bahre said. “They had an inning (three runs in the fourth). We hit the ball hard but we hit the ball right at people. The team is looking good and we’re recruiting for next year.”
Winsted 4, Canton 1
Winsted (11-8) 010 300 0 — 4-9-0
Canton (4-15) 000 010 0 — 1-3-1
Mitch Gryniuk and Chester Warner; Taylor Riley and Jeff Mulhall; WP: M. Gryniuk; LP: Riley (2-5); 2B: Lucas Gryniuk (W), John Lippincott (W), Tim Smith (W), Taylor Riley (Ca); HR: Lippincott (W), Jay Torres (W)
Winsted 7, Canton 2
At Winsted (July 23)
Canton (4-14) 000 200 0 — 2-4-4
Winsted (10-8) 100 015 x — 7-10-3
Jim Michanczyk and Jeff Mulhall; Austin Brochu and Chester Warner; WP: Brochu; LP: J. Michancyzk (0-1); 2B: Jay Torres (W), T.J. Kent (W)