MIDDLETOWN >> Sometimes the game story isn’t the real story.
Tuesday afternoon at John DeNunzio Field, pitcher Ben Gilliland made his first start of the season for Middletown. Like every other game before this day, Middletown lost, this time an excruciating 2-1 decision to Rocky Hill, making it four of the last five games in which the Blue Dragons lost up-for-grabs contests.
The record will show that Gilliland, who allowed just one earned run and put down the final 14 batters he faced, was the loser. But Gilliland was no loser this day. In fact, the kid was the biggest winner on the field.
A few years ago, Gilliland, a senior, had major heart surgery. He recovered from that and pitched in his sophomore and junior years and pitched — and pitched well — for the Middletown Post 75 Legion team last summer.
Let him tell the rest of the story.
“This past fall I had an [heart] episode,” he said. “It was pretty serious. The doctors told me I would never play again. But me and my dad went to work because I wanted to play. We had to go through a lot of stuff, a lot of stress testing. The doctors finally cleared me to play.
“I’m really happy to be back. I felt good today, I felt strong. I wish I could have come back sooner. It’s been very frustrating to watch, but it’s a great feeling to be back.”
Gilliland gave up an unearned run in the first inning — due to his own throwing error — and was touched for an earned run in the third on a single, a bunt and a run-producing ground ball by Bailey O’Connell.
And that was it. From the third inning through the seventh, Gilliland retired 14 in a row, seven on ground balls.
“He was great,” said Rocky Hill coach Chris Farrell. “He had good command of his off-speed stuff. I know his story. Tremendous job.”
That opinion was unanimous.
“Ben did a great job,” Middletown coach Josh Cofield said. “When you pitch in a high school game and hold a team to two runs — one earned — you should win. That he did that in his first outing is amazing. But we just couldn’t get him enough runs.”
Middletown got a run in the fifth inning on a leadoff single by Stephen Lombardo, an errant pickoff throw by catcher Trevor Whalen that moved the runner up a base, a ground ball to the right side, and an RBI single to right by A.J. Mallet (2-for-3).
Middletown (0-19) had a runner thrown out at the plate in the third inning that turned out to be a huge play. The Dragons had runners on first and third with one out when Lombardo tried to score on a ground ball to short, but J.D. Monaco threw him out.
Winning pitcher Nick Bogus, who also went the distance, allowed four hits — Gilliland allowed just three — and the one earned run. Bogus struck out two while Gilliland fanned three in the one hour, 16 minute game.
“Bogus has done a great job all year,” Farrell said. “He’s got an ERA around 2.20 and has been good all season.
Today he threw a lot of first pitch strikes. Just an awesome job.”
In Middletown’s four brutal recent losses, one was an 11-inning decision to Plainville, the second was a walk-off loss to Manchester, the third was a 7-5 decision to Rocky Hill Monday and the finale was this one.
“It’s been very frustrating,” Cofield said. “I’ve never been through anything like this. The kids are competing, they want to win, but we are young in spots and it shows sometimes.
“Like Ben today, our pitching has mostly been pretty good. But we haven’t always played well behind our pitchers and we haven’t hit.”
Rocky Hill improved to 6-13.
Middletown will end its season today at Plainville.