Pictured: Post 75’s Ryan Michaud (44) greets pitcher Brent Gilson after Gilson got the final out in Middletown’s 2-1 win over Ellington on Tuesday. (Paul Augeri Photo)
By Paul Augeri
MIDDLETOWN – Even though Middletown’s depleted roster was just 10 strong Tuesday, the night wasn’t about the numbers.
It was about the collective efforts of the 10 who contributed to one of the 75ers’ biggest triumphs in recent memory.
Post 75 got gritty pitching performances from starter Griffin Biro and reliever Brent Gilson and run-scoring hits from Tiernan Powers and Owen Clancy, right after Ellington had taken the lead, to come away with a 2-1 Zone 3 victory at Palmer Field.
It was a win the 75ers needed badly, for it kept Middletown in contention for a second-place finish in the zone and a berth in the American Legion’s Connecticut regional qualifier tournament. Middletown needs NCL (12-5) to lose Wednesday night to clinch a spot in the 10-team field, otherwise the 75ers will play in the state tourney.
“Griffin was phenomenal tonight,” Middletown coach Dan Botti said. “He had a rough start to the season because he didn’t get a lot of innings (this spring) for Coginchaug, so he’s come a long way. We had confidence in sending him and Brent out there tonight.”
Rocky Hill/Cromwell/Portland clinched the Zone 3 title Tuesday by winning the first of two games at East Hartford/Manchester. Ryan Robb fired a one-hitter in the 6-0 victory. RCP won Game 2 5-2 and stands at 15-2 with one zone game left.
Middletown finished its 18-game zone schedule at 12-6. The top two finishers in the state’s five zones this year will play in the regional qualifier. The winner of the single-elimination qualifier advances to the regional tournament, while the other nine will be slotted into the state tournament.
Biro, making his first start on Palmer Field’s bump, pitched into the sixth. He allowed an unearned run on just four hits, walked four and fanned out seven in 5 1/3 innings.
“It felt really good to win because I’m not going to play baseball in college,” said the right-hander, whose fastball and knuckle-curve kept Ellington’s bats at bay. “This is probably one of my last games starting on a mound.”
Biro, who struck out the first four batters of the game, cruised into the fourth and retired the first two batters before hitting Shawn Gentilcore with a two-strike pitch.
It appeared harmless though when got Christopher Uzupes to hit a fly to medium right-center — until Owen Clancy – a well-tested defensive player — dropped it. Gentilcore came around to score.
Biro buckled in and got John Wrynn to look at strike three, stranding Uzupes at second.
“Owen is one of the better center fielders I’ve coached. It happens,” Botti said.
Clancy, a key offensive and defensive player on Coginchaug’s Class S championship team, redeemed himself immediately in the 75ers’ ensuing at-bat.
With one out, smooth Ellington southpaw Anthony Mierez walked Ryan Michaud on four pitches. Powers, who entered the game with a team-best .341 average, loaded up on a fastball and sent it to the warning track in left-center to tie the game.
Powers, the team’s best pitcher after ace Alex Mach – both will go on to play at UConn-Avery Point — wasn’t supposed to get many at-bats this season. But when shortstop Colin Loria was hurt in the team’s first game of the season, he became one of Middletown’s most important players.
“I’ve been having a lot of fun,” Powers said. “I’ve tried to not put too much pressure on myself.”
Clancy, who struck out in his first at-bat, was pulled aside by Botti before getting into the batter’s box. The 75ers won a game last week with a safety squeeze – and that’s what the coach called for Clancy to do.
He put down a beautiful bunt into no man’s land – between the mound and first-base line. Powers scored easily and Clancy reached.
“He picked himself right up,” Botti said.
Said Biro: “It felt good to come right back and have such good at-bats.”
From there, it was a white-knuckle finish for the 75ers. Ellington had runners on second and third in the fifth, but Biro got a pop-up and fly to center to get out of the inning.
In the sixth, Biro gave up a one-out walk and single, forcing Botti to call on Gilson off the bench. Gilson got a quick strikeout for the second out, but a wild pitch moved both runners up. He walked Christopher Mierez to load the bases before Jordan Terry bounced into a force for the final out.
Gilson locked up the save in the seventh, getting the first two outs of the inning and then a force out after walking Anthony Mierez.
“Brent, I love that kid,” Biro said. “He is a hell of a pitcher.”
Ellington…….000 010 0–1 5 0
Middletown..000 020 X–2 4 1
Batteries: E–Anthony Mierez and Jordan Terry; M–Griffin Biro, Brent Gilson (6) and Mike Garofalo. WP: Biro; LP: Mierez; Save: Gilson. 2B: E–Terry; M–Ryan Quinn; 3B: M–Powers. Records: Middletown 12-6; Ellington 11-6.