Pictured: Post 75 players catch up to Mike Garofalo (center) after his eighth-inning hit beat Naugatuck in the American Legion state tournament. (Paul Augeri photo)
By Paul Augeri
MIDDLETOWN – Mike Garofalo had his best at-bat of the night at the most opportune time Tuesday to keep Middletown Post 75’s heart beating in the Connecticut American Legion 19U state tournament.
Post 75’s catcher bombed a ball to the warning track with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth inning, giving Middletown a 2-1 victory at Palmer Field and eliminating Naugatuck from the 32-team field.
Garofalo flew out to center in the sixth, which he took as a positive sign after striking out in his first two at-bats.
“Mike was due,” Middletown coach Dan Botti said. “Those first three at-bats weren’t great for him, but he got ahold of one, something he’s been doing all year.”
Garofalo crushed a 1-1 pitch left out over the plate by Naugatuck reliever Nick Bruno, well beyond left fielder Matt Stefan, to score Tyler Powell from third with the winning run.
“Those first two at-bats were tough,” Garofalo said. “The third one I felt I just missed. I was sitting dead-red fastball on the first strike and was (upset) that I let it go. The second time, I got all of that one.”
Tiernan Powers pitched a 1-2-3 eighth for the win in relief of starter Alex Mach, who turned in another superlative outing: 7 innings, 1 earned run on 3 hits, 2 walks, a hit batter and 12 strikeouts.
“He did a great job for us and we were confident having Tiernan come in there,” Botti said.
Middletown (19-7), the fourth seed in the tournament’s 16-team Northern bracket, hosts Norwich on Wednesday (6:30pm) at Palmer. No. 2 Rocky Hill/Cromwell/Portland defeated Moosup 9-0 and will host Avon on Wednesday at Cromwell High.
The 75ers’ rally in the eighth started with a leadoff walk to Powell on a 3-2 Bruno pitch. Owen Clancy dropped a bunt down the first-base line to easily advance Powell. Spencer Misenti worked his count full and also walked.
Then it got interesting.
Left-handed-hitting Ryan Quinn, who singled in his first at-bat, sliced a ball to shallow left-center that was tailing away from center fielder Justin Stone. Stone extended and got a glove on it but couldn’t secure the ball. Powell, who did not stray far off second, broke for third and appeared beat for the force even though the throw was off-line, but Sosa fumbled it.
The lucky break stage was set for Garofalo to be the hero.
“That’s a tough play because I thought it was dropping and Quinny won the game for us there,” Botti said. “It was a hectic play where we thought (Stone) caught it, so we’re yelling for Tyler to get back. Then he dropped it and (Powell) was dead at third and the ball got away, so definitely there was some luck there.
“We were able to get it done.”
Mach and Naugatuck starter Derrick Jagello were locked in a scoreless duel until the 75ers gave their ace a much-deserved lead in the sixth.
After Jagello got the first two outs — he had faced the minimum 14 batters to that point — Jack Konopka poked a ball through the middle for just the second 75er hit. Konopka stole second on an 0-2 pitch to Powell to get into scoring position. After working the count full, Powell lined an opposite-field single to left for the lead.
Powell, who started at third base, has a been a fixture in the lineup the past several weeks because of injuries to other players.
“He’s really been hot for us,” Mach said.
Mach retired nine of the last 10 Naugatuck batters entering the seventh, but quickly put himself in a bind when Jagello hit a leadoff double to left. A wild pitch– “I choked a fastball too hard,” he said — put Jagello on third.
After a walk to Alex Sosa and Sosa moving to second without a throw from Garofalo, Brady Evon flied deep enough to left to plate Jagello. Middletown caught a big break on the relay throw when Sosa was caught off second and thrown out. James Duda flied to left on Mach’s final pitch of the night for the third out.
Middletown had a chance to win it in the bottom of the seventh. Colin Loria, in a triumphant return from a hip injury suffered in the first game of the summer, singled with one out and advanced to second on Powers’ sacrifice bunt. But Loria was stranded when Konopka lined to center off for the final out.
Jagello injured his left leg as he tried to get out of the way of third baseman Sosa, who fielded the ball and threw out Powers, and left the game under his own power.
Naugatuck…..000 000 10–1 3 0
Middletown….000 001 01–2 5 0
Batteries: N–Derrick Jagello, Nick Bruno (7) and Michael Rusin; M–Alex Mach, Tiernan Powers (8) and Mike Garofalo: WP: Powers; LP: Bruno.