By Jim Bransfield
BERLIN >> Berlin won the game it had to win.
After Middletown won the first three games of the four-game Zone 3 series, Berlin defeated the Post 75ers, 2-0, behind its ace, Taylor Luciani, at Zipidelli Field at Sage Park Thursday evening.
“Taylor did what an ace is supposed to do,” said Berlin coach Rob Manzo. “This was a huge game for us; it keeps us in it. We lost four games in row and we needed our ace. It was a bulldog effort. I’m very proud of him.”
The Quinnipiac University bound pitcher threw a four-hitter and struck out eight in handing Middletown its first shutout of the season. Luciani (4-0) also was helped by two brilliant defensive plays and wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the seventh.
“We’ve been scuffling a little bit lately,” said Luciani. “I had great plays behind me. It’s a big win against the top team in the zone. Maybe this will get us back on track.”
Middletown remains in first place in the zone at 16-4 while Berlin is 11-6, three and half games out and two games down in the lost column. Because Middletown won the season series, should the two teams finish in a tie, Middletown gets the nod on that tiebreaker.
Middletown has eight games left: four with Wallingford this weekend and four with Cheshire. Berlin has 11 left: four with Meriden, four with Wallingford and three with Westbrook. The zone race is far from over.
“We took three out of four,” said Middletown coach Tim D’Aquila. “Our pitching [Luke Sorenson and Scott Marks] was very good tonight, too. We made a couple of defensive mistakes, but we made very few errors in the entire series, so I can’t complain.”
Berlin had six hits, three of which were bunts.
Both Berlin runs were unearned and both came because baseball is, as they say, a game of inches.
After Sorenson continued his streak of solid pitching with three shutout innings – he has given up just three runs in his last 13 innings – Mitch Williams greeted reliever Steve Marks with a fly ball double down the left field line.
Kyle Farrell made a long run to get the ball, dived, and just missed making what would have been a very good catch.
Jeff Sylvester followed with a bunt to the third base side of the mound. Marks got to the ball, but his hurried threw was low and skipped past second baseman Malcolm Alleyne for a throwing error and a run.
Marks, who has also pitched well lately with three earned runs in his last nine and a third innings, gave up another unearned run in the sixth.
With one out, Sylvester reached when Jared Pflaumer kicked his ground ball. Jordan Zima beat out a bunt for a base hit and Kyle Naples got Sylvester home with a bunt single. On Naples’ bunt, which was popped up in front of the plate, Marks made a dive for the ball and it ticked off his glove for a single and a run.
Middletown (20-5 overall) had its chances. The 75ers got two on with a walk to Nate Roy and a single by Pflaumer. But Will Woods struck out to end the inning.
In the fifth, Bill Waldner was hit with a pitch. Dan Gustafson’s bunt went maybe 15 feet down the third base line. But third baseman Alec Norton made an on-the-money throw to second base and second baseman Naples made an under duress pivot to turn the double play.
In the sixth, Roy led the inning by slamming a rocket to the wall in left center, but center fielder Evan Michalek and shortstop Hunter Tralli made a textbook relay to get Roy at third on a bang-bang play
“Berlin made great plays on both of those,” said D’Aquila. “I know you’re not supposed to make the first out at third base, but we want our kids to be aggressive. It took a perfect relay to get him and give them credit, they did. And that double play was outstanding.
“I also like their shortstop [Tralli] a lot. He makes all the plays and he’s got a great arm.”
Tralli had five assists as Berlin played errorless baseball.
Middletown loaded the bases in the seventh on a leadoff walk to John Mormile, a one out walk to Waldner, and a two-out single to right by Farrell. But Roy flied to center to end it.