Pictured: Middletown senior Ryan Michaud, right, crosses home plate after hitting a solo home run to find teammate Logan Wenzel waiting for him. Michaud’s blast to right-center in the first inning at Palmer Field was the only run scored by the Blue Dragons in their loss to Bristol Eastern.
By Paul Augeri
MIDDLETOWN – With only two varsity holdovers from the spring before the pandemic, Middletown High’s baseball team still needs time to develop an identity for this season.
As the Blue Dragons attempt to figure themselves out, the urgency to do so grows. Time is not on their side.
After Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to Bristol Eastern at Palmer Field, and with almost one-third of its schedule in the books, Middletown is 1-4. The win was Eastern’s first in eight tries, with first-year varsity player Jaydon Churchill, a junior, pitching a complete game six-hitter.
Middletown has two star seniors in first baseman Ryan Michaud and left-handed starter Logan Wenzel. But Wenzel, who has committed to play at Central Connecticut, hasn’t pitched this season because of shoulder discomfort. He is awaiting results from an MRI before it’s determined if he can pitch at all in his final spring in a Middletown uniform.
“Hopefully he’s back before the season ends,” said Michaud, who crushed a first-inning fastball halfway up the bleachers in right-center for the team’s only run Wednesday. “We’ve got to figure some things out, some culture things around the team. We have to come together as one. We’re still kind of doing our thing. I feel like we’ll get there.”
Coach Josh Cofield’s lineup included seniors/first-year varsity players Cameron Brooks at catcher, Rian Parker in left field, Kai Cottle at third base, right-hander Brent Gilson on the mound, Matt Rosenblum in right and Tyler Curtiss at second.
Gilson went the distance in just his second varsity start, allowing just four hits and three earned runs. His defense made three errors – two in the first inning when the Lancers jumped out to a 2-0 lead.
“He’s a great kid who gives us a chance to win,” said Michaud, who will play in college at Eastern Connecticut State.
Middletown put the ball on the ball, striking out only four times against Churchill, but left five runners in scoring position. The Blue Dragons hit the ball in the air 13 times for outs, eight on pop-ups.
“We’ve got the get the bat path going,” said Michaud, who had two hits and reached base in three of four plate appearances. “We’re popping up to much. We’ve gotta hit the ball on the ground past the defense. We’re not doing that (although) we’re trying to keep the head down on the swing.”
Cofield sees a larger problem in this – not enough oversight in preseason preparation.
“It’s just driving me crazy with the pop-ups,” he said. “I’ll tell you this — it’s great when the kids are doing a lot of offseason stuff. But when they are doing offseason stuff without a coach on them on certain things, that’s all cage (work). What we’re doing as a program now is we’re breaking bad habits.
“If you would have seen us in Game 1 to where we are now, it’s a whole different team. We were not putting the ball in play then. Now we’re putting the ball in play but it’s not solid (contact), so hopefully by game 7 where are putting the ball in play how we should be. It’s something we’re going to continue to work on.”
Down 2-1, Middletown threatened in the third inning when Ryan Quinn singled with two outs and moved to third on Michaud’s single to right. But Churchill got a strikeout to get out of the jam.
Eastern took a 3-1 lead in the fourth without the benefit of a hit. Gilson walked leadoff batter Ben D’Amato, who took second on a wild pitch and advanced to third on Nate Ouellette’s ground ball to third (Oullette was safe when the throw from Cottle pulled Michaud off the bag). D’Amato scored on Trevor Nohilly’s groundout.
Andrew Lozier laced a ball over the head of Quinn in center for an inside-the-park home run in the sixth, giving the Lancers a three-run advantage.
Middletown put two runners aboard with one out in the sixth, but Churchill got two strikeouts to end the inning.
In the seventh, after Ryan Quinn doubled to left with one out, Churchill got two pop-ups to snap his team’s seven-game winless streak.
“We’ve played some tough teams close this year (Maloney and Berlin) and we’ve lost two in extra innings,” Eastern coach Steve Gaudet said. “We’ve been getting closer and closer (to winning). These guys work so hard. To be in a great environment like this and come up with our first win and compete all the way to the end, it was just outstanding. I couldn’t be prouder of the kids.”
Churchill was done to his final batter because of pitch count when he got Middletown’s Daniel Lapham on a pop to second to end the game.
“He’s never pitched varsity before in his life,” Gaudet said. “I tell him, we need you at third today, or second or the outfield, and he says ‘You got it, coach.’”
Gaudet said he believes Middletown is better than its record. Time will tell.
Cofield, who was quick to praise Gilson’s performance, said the season will be “a process” for the Blue Dragons, who were not allowed to play scrimmage games because of COVID-19 concerns and have played fewer games to date than its opponents due to weather and scheduling issues.
“Today was pretty good for Brent, to pitch a complete game in high school in his second start and allow four runs,” he said. “But we’ve got to support him. For us to win games we’ve got to score runs and score more than one. We have to build on this.”
Middletown’s game Thursday at East Hartford was postponed. The Blue Dragons have road games Friday (Plainville) and Monday (E.O. Smith) before their next home game Wednesday against Berlin (Palmer Field, 6pm).
BE 200 110 0—4 4 0
M 100 000 0—1 6 3
Batteries: BE-Jaydon Churchill and Nate Ouellette; M-Brent Gilson and Cameron Brooks. WP: Churchill; LP: Gilson. 2B: BE-Dylan Woodsome; M-Ryan Michaud, Ryan Quinn, HR: BE-Andrew Lozier; M-Ryan Michaud. LOB: BE-4; M-7.