Pictured: Post 75 pitcher Alex Mach leaves Buzzy Levin Field as Cromwell celebrates Monday’s win after scoring twice in the seventh with two outs. (Photo by Marc Silvestrini)
By Marc Silvestrini
MIDDLETOWN – Can this rivalry possibly get any better?
Two days after suffering a heartbreaking 1-0 defeat on a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the eighth inning at the hands of Zone 3 rival Middletown, RCP returned the favor by scoring a pair of runs with two outs in the bottom of the seventh to take the rematch, 2-1, extending its lead in Zone play to two games in the loss column.
The winning rally began after Middletown starter Alex Mach, who pitched brilliantly in defeat, got two quick outs and concluded on Elias DeLeon’s clutch two-out, line-drive single to left that plated two runs, turning a 1-0 Middletown lead into a Post 105 victory.
Monday’s game, a home game for RCP (Rocky Hill/Cromwell/Portland), was played at Middletown’s Buzzy Levin Field, the same site as Saturday’s classic battle.
The win improves RCP’s Zone 3 record to 11-2 while Middletown drops to 7-4. NCL Windsor Locks/Windsor is also two games back in the loss column at 8-4.
“That was a tremendous win for our guys because that’s just an awesome team over there,” RCP coach Paul Francis said, pointing to the cheerless, somber spot in the outfield where the Middletown team had gathered following DeLeon’s walk-off hit.
“That’s a great squad and that was a great pitcher we faced tonight,” Francis said of Mach. “He’s got the best slider – which he mixes very well with his fastball – that I’ve seen in a long time around here.”
Francis also had plenty of good things to say about his own pitcher, Zach Zajac, who tossed a complete-game. Zajac limited the powerful Post 75ers to one run on eight hits over seven innings of work.
“We really needed a big effort from Zach tonight, and that’s exactly what he gave us,” Francis said. “This was about as good a game as we’ve ever seen him pitch in a green and yellow uniform. He really came up big.”
Zajac said his best pitch on the night was his sinking fastball, which he was able to consistently keep in the lower part of the strike zone.
“I just felt really good out there tonight,” he said. “Because of all the rain we’ve had lately I’ve had a solid two weeks of rest, so I felt pretty strong.”
When asked if he felt any extra pressure in the wake of his team’s 1-0 loss Saturday, he shrugged. “It was an important game for us, and I just knew I needed to come out and perform and help this team get a win.”
The two-out rally began with RCP’s Justin Fraleigh’s solid single to left, putting the tying run aboard. Grant Collins followed by drawing a walk on a 3-2 pitch, moving the tying run to second.
Justin Valentin, the ninth hitter in the Post 105 lineup, then came through with a single to short right field, but an excellent pick-up and throw to the plate by Middletown right fielder Kolby Pascarelli kept Zach Mascaro – who was pinch running for Fraleigh – at third.
That left it up to DeLeon, who will be returning to Cromwell High as a senior in the fall.
“I really wasn’t looking to get both runs home, I was just looking for a pitch to hit hard somewhere and get the game tied,” he said. “I hit an inside fastball pretty good and I knew it was going through into left field as soon as I looked up and saw the ball.”
Middletown had broken through against Zajac in the top of the fifth, also putting a run on the board off of a two-out, bases-empty situation.
After two routine outs, Mike Garofalo roped a double down the left field line and into the corner. Ryan Michaud followed with a line single to right, enabling Garofalo to slide in just under RCP catcher Nick Polizonis’ tag to score the first run of the game.
“It’s a tough one to lose, especially in the last inning like that, but I’m still proud of the fact that it took one of the state’s best-hitting teams 15 innings to score against our pitching,” Middletown coach Dan Botti said. “It hurts right now because we were so close to sweeping both games, but a split really isn’t the end of the world at this point in the season.
“We got one, they got one. There are still games to play this season, so let’s see how this all ends up after 18 games.”
Botti noted that both of his team’s primary goals this season, winning Zone 3 and playing their way into the American Legion postseason tournament (the two top teams from each Zone qualify) remain on the board.
He added that he contemplated removing Mach from the game after Valentin’s single loaded the bases, but opted to stay with his right-hander despite the fact that his pitch count had climbed slightly over 100.
“He was great all night. He deserved the chance to try and finish the job,” Botti said. “It was his game to win or lose.”
Mach, the winner of Saturday’s game in relief of Pascarelli, did not allow an RCP baserunner to reach second until the sixth. He surrendered six hits and the two seventh-inning runs while fanning six and walking two.
DeLeon had two hits, two RBIs and a stolen base to pace RCP’s six-hit attack, while Polizonis, Fraleigh, Collins and Valentin collected the other Post 105 hits.
Chris Carafeno and Ryan Quinn had two hits apiece for Middletown while Hugh Barrett, Tiernan Powers, Garofalo and Michaud accounted for the rest of Middletown’s eight hits.
Middletown will play South Windsor twice on Tuesday at Pat Kidney. The first game (6pm) will pick up a rain-delayed affair with the 75ers leading 2-0 in the fourth inning, followed immediately by a full game in which Middletown will be the visiting team.
RCP has a home game Wednesday at 5:45 p.m. against East Hartford/Manchester).
Middletown…000 010 0–1 8 1
RCP…………..000 000 2–2 6 1
Batteries: M–Alex Mach and Mike Garofalo; RCP–Zach Zajac and Nick Polizonis. WP: Zajac; LP: Mach. 2B: M–Garofalo. Records: Middletown 7-4; RCP 11-2.