MIDDLETOWN >> Bill Waldner’s pop fly single in no-man’s land in short center field scored John Mormile from third base in the bottom of the 11th inning giving the Post 75ers a 5-4 win over New Haven in the opening round of the State Legion playoffs Sunday afternoon at Palmer Field.
Middletown will play Westport, a 10-0 winner over East Haven, today at 4:30 p.m. at Palmer Field. The winner advances to a best-of-three series with Stamford in Stamford Wednesday.
The win washed away an afternoon of frustration for the 75ers, who made a ton of fundamental mistakes and frittered away scoring opportunities, including a bases-loaded, nobody out situation in the tenth inning.
“I thought we played tight,” said Middletown coach Tim D’Aquila. “But [Mike] McShane was great. He’s not a strikeout pitcher and he spots the ball and throws ground balls. He kept us where we needed to be to have a chance to win the game.”
The game was a struggle from the outset as the 75ers made mental mistake after mental mistake.
It’s merely bookkeeping now, but a Middletown runner on second ran on a ball hit in front of him and was an easy out at third. Another runner led an inning with a walk and promptly got picked off and a outfielder dived for a ball leading off in extra innings, giving the hitter an extra base.
Another time a batter swung on the first pitch after a 4-pitch walk — he had the take sign — and the 75ers hit into four double plays.
The last double play came on a huge gamble by New Haven coach Duke Higgins in the 10th inning.
Middletown loaded the bases with no one out. Griffin Bremer popped to first for the first out. Then Higgins played his middle infielders at double play depth. Virtually everyone else in such a spot pulls the infield in.
The gamble paid off as Nick Roy hit the ball hard to shortstop Jose Negron who started the 6-4-3 double play.
“We rolled four double plays,” said Higgins. “My pitcher then was not a hard thrower, but he was hitting corners. I just felt that if they hit the ball hard at an infielder, we could turn another one and get out of it.”
Roy did and they did.
McShane went 10 innings, giving up four runs, two of them earned. He gave up just five hits, struck out five and walked three. Scott Marks got the win with a 1-2-3 11th. Kyle Bates, the visitors’ third pitcher, took the loss.
Middletown won the game when Mormile (2-for-5) led the 11th with a line single to left. He stole second, then was bunted to third by Malcolm Alleyne. Higgins had no choice but to pull the infield in and Waldner blooped a Kyle Bates pitch over the shortstop’s head and in front of center fielder Luis Galarza to win the game, touching off a wild celebration at first base.
“There was nothing we could do about that,” said Higgins. “It was a perfectly placed ball. A few feet either way, we’re still playing.”
Middletown (21-8, 28-13 overall) took a 1-0 lead in the second inning. With one out, Roy (2-for-3) doubled, stole third and when the throw sailed into left field, he trotted home.
New Haven (15-16) tied the game in the third on Erik Colon’s two-out double that scored Josh Colon from first base.
Middletown had runners on in every inning save the fourth, but couldn’t score until the seventh. Meanwhile, New Haven took a 2-1 lead in the seventh.
R.J. Dewar led with a single, was bunted up by Ed Luther, and moved to third on a ground ball to third. He scored on a passed ball by Nick DeShais, one pitch before Galarza popped to short for the third out.
Middletown came back to tie in the home half. Swilling opened by slapping a single to left and he was wild-pitched to second. He was bunted to third by Griffin Bremer and he scored on a sacrifice fly by Roy, who had two RBI to go with his two hits, a walk and a sacrifice fly.
New Haven came back to take a 4-2 lead in the eighth. A leadoff double by L.J. Dewar and a walk with one out gave New Haven first and second with one out. McShane struck out Erik Colon, but Jose Negron slapped a bad hop single off second baseman Alleyne for a run, then the second run scored on Alleyne’s error on a ground ball hit by R.J Dewar.
But again the 75ers came right back.
Laurence Hill (2-for-3) opened the eighth with a triple to left center. Jared Pflaumer (3-for-5) singled on the next pitch to cut the lead to 4-3. After two popups, Roy got a bad hop single past third to tie the game.
“We made too many mistakes,” said D’Aquila. “And I thought for the first time this year we played selfishly. We didn’t hit behind the runner and more than that, we didn’t execute at times, both offensively and defensively.
“We also didn’t play with much energy, particularly early. But we did later and we won.”
D’Aquila was pleased with how Marks threw in his one inning. “He might think we’re down on him because we haven’t used him much lately,” said D’Aquila “But that’s because he was used 10 times between June 14 and 30 as a 15-year old. We tried to limit his innings and now, he’s fresh and he helped us today.”
James Taubel, New Haven’s Sacred Heart-bound starter, pitched on short rest. He had six and a third innings of eligibility under the Legion pitching rule (12 innings, 3 days) and came out after six with a 2-1 lead. His reliever, Sean Ranz, gave back 2-1 and 4-2 leads before Bates came in in the ninth.
Middletown finished with 13 hits, 10 coming from the seventh inning on.
“Maybe this will wake us up,” said D’Aquila. “That’s what I hope.”