Pictured: Valley Regional has eight wins in its last nine games, playing its way into the top four in the current Shoreline Conference standings.
By Marc Silvestrini
CLINTON — When push came to shove and with the game on the line, Valley Regional coach Brian Drinkard did what just about any clear-thinking high school baseball coach would do in the same situation: He brought in his sophomore pitchers.
In truth, it may seem a bit strange and unconventional to place all of your trust in a pair of youngsters with the game hanging in the balance. But Drinkard knew exactly what he was doing when he put his starting first baseman, Henry Breckenfeld, on the mound in the fourth inning and brought in his second baseman, Brayden Sparaco, to close the game in the seventh.
The result: Valley held off a tough and determined Morgan team to walk away with a hard-fought 6-5 Shoreline Conference victory.
Valley improved to 9-3, with eight wins in their last nine games. Morgan fell to 6-7 after having started the season by losing five of their first six.
“It was kind of ugly,” Drinkard admitted. “Both teams kind of kicked it around a bit. But we’ll take the win. And I’m very proud of the way these kids came in and pitched.”
Breckenfeld was summoned to the mound to relieve starter Ryan Ellison with two outs in the fourth after Morgan had pushed across two runs to take a 4-3 lead. While Valley scored twice in the fifth and once in the sixth to go ahead 6-4, Breckenfeld was retiring five Huskies batters in a row before a walk, an error and a sacrifice fly by Garret Garbinski enabled Morgan to climb back to within a run at 6-5 through six innings of play.
In all, Breckenfeld — who picked up the first win of his varsity career — pitched 2 1/3 innings of hitless relief in which he struck out one, walked two and was charged with an unearned run.
“I’ve been pitching pretty well lately,” he said. “I have confidence in myself and a lot of confidence in my defense. I know those guys will save me if I ever get in trouble.”
Drinkard summoned third baseman Andrew Salbinski to the mound to open the last of the seventh, but brought in Sparaco after Salbinski began the frame by throwing six straight balls. It was Sparaco’s first appearance on the mound in a varsity game.
Sparaco’s mound debut got off to a rough start when he missed with two of his first three pitches to complete the walk to Morgan’s Dominic Carpenter, which was charged to Salbinski. That put Huskies runners at first and second with no one out.
Ellison, the starting pitcher now playing first base, then came up with the single most important play of the game — he fielded what looked to be a perfectly placed sacrifice bunt by Morgan’s Ryan Hromadka and gunned the ball to Salbinski at third, just nipping Ethan Reemsnyder, the lead Morgan runner, by a fraction of a second.
Sparaco then fanned the next batter before getting the final Morgan hitter to bounce to Ellison at first, ending the game.
“I was never really nervous. I knew I could throw strikes and get those guys out,” Sparaco said. “The only thing I was worried about was that first guy (Carpenter) because he already had two balls, but I knew I could get the other guys out.”
Valley jumped on Pelletier — who would eventually settle down and pitch well beginning with the second inning — for three runs on four hits in the first. Kyle Metz and Sam Helsel had run-scoring singles while Breckenfeld brought in a run on an RBI grounder to short.
Morgan got two of the runs back in its half of the first on an RBI double by Brady Fritz and a wild pitch that allowed Garbinski, who had walked, to score.
The score remained 3-2 until Ryan Inglis and Fritz touched Ellison for run-scoring singles in the Morgan fourth to give the Huskies a 4-3 lead. Valley regained the lead in the top of the fifth on Helsel’s run-scoring single and a bases-loaded hit batter.
Morgan assistant coach C.J. Caprio said the coaching staff was upset with the seventh-inning out call at third base against Reemsnyder, but also acknowledged that the Huskies had made a big contribution to the Valley win by committing six errors.
“We competed today, we never quit, but cleaner infield play would have given us a much better chance to win,” he said.
Salbinski paced the Warriors’ eight-hit attack with three hits and two runs scored while Helsel had two hits and two ribbies and Metz chipped in with two hits, two runs scored and an RBI. Sparaco led off the game with the other Warrior hit.
Fritz had two hits and two ribbies for Morgan, Inglis had a hit, an RBI and a run scored while Reemsnyder collected the Huskies’ fourth hit. Pelletier scattered eight hits across 4 2/3 innings of work and yielded five runs, four of which were earned. Bailey Goss pitched 2 1/3 innings of hitless relief, surrendering one unearned run.
Valley will host Haddam-Killingworth on Monday in a game scheduled to start at 3:45 p.m. Morgan travels to Cromwell on Monday at 4.
VR 300 021 0–6 8 2
M 200 201 0–5 4 6
Pitchers: VR–Ellison, Breckenfeld (4), Salbinski (7), Sparaco (7); M–Pelletier, Goss (5). WP:Breckenfeld; LP: Pelletier; S: Sparaco. 2B: M–Fritz. Records: Valley 9-3; Morgan 6-7.