CROMWELL — As the calendar turns to July and Zone 3’s contenders start to distinguish themselves, Rocky Hill-Cromwell-Portland looked like one of them by squeezing out an important win against Northern Division leader Enfield on Sunday.
While not at his sharpest, left-hander Zach Lombardo pitched into the sixth inning, Jared Valentin hit a big two-run double to pad RCP’s lead and reliever Justin Fraleigh got out of a jam in the seventh for a 4-2 victory over Post 80 at Fran Monnes Field.
RCP (8-4) rebounded from a 5-3 loss to Tri-County on Saturday to keep pace with Glastonbury (8-3) in the zone’s bunched-up Southern Division. Middletown (6-5) and Tri-County (5-5) also are factors. Post 75 looms twice for RCP — Wednesday in Cromwell and Friday at Palmer Field.
“One thing we are is an older team and (Enfield) is a little tough, so it’s good to bounce back from the Tri-County loss,” RCP coach Paul Francis said. “This was a big game against a team in first place. If we can win tomorrow (a return engagement at Enfield), we can create some separation, plus in the games ahead against Middletown.
“It was good not to snowball into two losses (in a row). We haven’t done that yet.”
Enfield left 12 runners on — eight in scoring position and five of the eight at third base. Enfield coach Tom Owens said his club had too many bad at-bats in those situations.
Lombardo went 5 2/3 innings, allowing one earned run on six hits, but his seven walks made Enfield a constant threat to score. Many of his pitches finished in the dirt.
“I think he was trying to make too much of a perfect pitch,” Francis said. “But he battled his (butt) off. That’s big for us. At the end of the day, when you don’t have your best stuff and only give up one run, that’s a pretty darned good day.”
Fraleigh inherited a two-on, two-out situation in the sixth and got the third out quickly to keep RCP’s lead at 4-1. He retired the first two batters in the seventh, but the third did not come easily. As lightning flashed in the distance, he walked Kyle Bak and Justin Ledger, then allowed a run-scoring single to Devyn Marcotte. Ledger reached third before Fraleigh got Jeremy Comfrey to chop a fastball to third to end it.
Francis said his club is prone to coasting in the middle of games and implied that it could have done more Sunday to avoid being in such a tight situation at the finish.
“If we want to make a run at this thing, I think we need to go all seven innings full tilt,” he said. “I think sometimes we turn the switch off, and eventually if you turn that switch off, you’re going to get burned a little bit. Fortunately, that wasn’t today.”
RCP gave Lombardo a 1-0 lead in the first without hitting a ball out of the infield. Brett Thivierge walked with one out, stole second and was balked to third by Jake Timme, who went the distance for Enfield. Nick Polizonis hit a bouncer toward the hole that kicked off third baseman Marcotte’s glove, allowing Thivierge to score.
RCP ended up loading the bases, but Timme got an infield fly and strikeout to wiggle out of it.
Thivierge was at it again in the third, this time with a leadoff single and steal of second. After Polizonis was hit by a pitch, Thivierge advanced to third when Timme’s pickoff attempt was fumbled away by shortstop Brett Reed. He then scored on Matt Sevigny’s sacrifice fly to center.
Austin Roy kept things moving by reaching on a bunt down the third-base line. Valentin, who struck out in his first at-bat, provided the crucial hit when he turned on a letter-high fastball with two strikes and sent it deep into the left-center gap to score Polizonis and Roy.
“I just barreled it up, that was about it,” Valentin said. “It was a good pitch. I was kind of looking for a fastball there because he just threw a little off-speed the pitch before. I noticed a little cut to the fastball and I tried to get out in front of it, and I just happened to get ahold of it.”
The game then fell back to Lombardo, who got out of the first and third innings with a runner at third. In the fourth, he wasn’t so fortunate. He walked three, and the only hit allowed was a run-scoring single by No. 9 hitter Jack Willoughby. Still, with the bases full, Lombardo got Matt Falk to fly to right for the third out.
“Sometimes I tried to place the ball, but I just had to clear my head and take a deep breath and trust myself to throw a strike, to know that I can throw my off-speed pitch for a strike,” Lombardo said.
In the fifth, Enfield threatened again when Lombardo issued a one-out walk to Ethan Boyer and gave up a bloop single to Bak. But Lombardo seized the moment when he snagged Ledger’s sharp grounder back at him and started a 1-6-3 double play.
“That was electric,” Lombardo said. “It set a fire on the bench and we got hot.”
“Zach battled his you-know-what-off,” Francis said, “but that game was a tribute to how tough we were. Our defense is awesome and has been awesome all year. That’s what we’re built on — defense, pitching, ability to throw strikes.”
Monday’s game at Enfield begins at 5:45 p.m. Roy will start for Post 105.