DURHAM >> After winning just one of their first six games, things seem to be turning around for the Coginchaug baseball team.
Jack Granger had four hits, including a game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth, and Blue Devils ace John Mormile earned the win with a clutch relief stint as Coginchaug outlasted Portland, 4-3, in nine innings Friday afternoon at Durham.
The Blue Devils, winners of two straight for the first time this season, improved to 4-7.
“We’ve got to play every game like it’s the last game if we’re going to get back into the tournament chase,” said Coginchaug coach Ted Lombardo. “It’s a big win for us against a quality team.”
Portland’s John Muskatello tied the game at 3 in the seventh inning by lining a two-out single into left against Mormile.
But Mormile, who had relieved Taylor Sapia, struck out four while allowing no hits over the next two innings and that set the stage for Granger’s heroics in the ninth.
“I brought in John and I was hoping to only get one inning but now it takes him out of Monday (against East Hampton),” added Lombardo.
Portland lefthander Hayden Manning was also terrific in a relief role. With the Highlanders trailing 3-0, Manning started the fifth in relief of Nick Adamsons and gave up just one hit over the next four innings.
“(Hayden) did an excellent job,” said Portland coach Rick Borg. “That’s the longest he’s pitched this year.”
But Kyle Farrell opened the bottom of the ninth with an infield single and then Manning hit Ben Chester with a pitch. After Eric Sbona popped up a bunt that was caught by catcher Cole Ogorzalek, Granger (4-for-5) stepped to the plate and drilled a long base hit to center that scored Farrell with the winning run.
“I knew it was a big spot and I figured (Manning) was gong to try and get ahead,” Granger explained. “I figured he was going to go fastball and I jumped on it. I saw the outfield was in so I was just trying to punch it through.”
Granger also had singles in the first, second and seventh innings.
“Jack hit a lot of ‘at-em’ balls early in the year and now he’s starting to find some holes out there,” said Lombardo. “He hit the ball hard every time up and that’s what we want. He’s the guy we wanted up in that situation (in the ninth), especially when we didn’t get the bunt down.”
The Blue Devils took a 3-0 lead in the first against Adamsons. Christian Adams had an RBI single. After Artie Koba doubled, Mormile drove in a run with a ground out before Connor Niedmann delivered an RBI double.
But the Highlanders (5-3) battled back with two runs in the fifth. Josh Scovill lined a lead-off double to center and after Jason Staub reached on a bunt, Mike Bordonaro had an RBI groundout. Muskatello (2-for-4) then made it 3-2 with a two-out single.
“I think that one of these days we’ll start hitting enough to start taking the pressure off of our pitchers,” said Borg. “It was a well played game by both sides.”
Said Granger, “We’ve had some pretty close ones that didn’t go our way. The league is pretty tough this year. Every game is going to be a battle. But I think this is where the season turns around for us.”