Pictured: Middletown players rush to congratulate Diego Carrillo after his game-winning, walk-off hit against Avon at Palmer Field. (Photo by Marc Silvestrini)
By Marc Silvestrini
MIDDLETOWN – April Baseball is not a game for the faint of heart.
With Friday’s game tied at 1 through six innings, Middletown High surrendered three runs to Avon in the top of the seventh before staging an improbable four-run rally in the bottom of the inning to secure a 5-4 victory.
Not only did the Blue Dragons display the grit to come off the mat and stage a game-winning rally after all appeared to have been lost, but they did so in nasty cold and windy conditions in a game that started 58 minutes late because Avon had trouble finding a fully functional bus and lasted for two hours and eight minutes.
Did we mention that Palmer Field felt like December in Nome, Alaska, during most of the game?
The win improves Middletown’s record to 7-3 under first-year head coach Dan Botti, a marked improvement over last year’s 5-13 finish. Avon falls to 2-7.
“It was a great win for us, obviously,” Botti said. “I loved the way our guys never gave up. They never hung their heads. They never thought they couldn’t come back and win the game.”
Of the team’s three losses this season, two (Hall and Berlin) have come with the Dragons holding the lead and their opponent down to its final strike, Botti noted. The other loss was another close one, a 4-2 decision to Platt.
“We learned something in those close losses,” he said. “We learned that those kinds of losses hurt and we didn’t want to lose another one like that today.
“This,” he added, “is the kind of win a team can really gain confidence with and feed off.”
Trailing 4-1 after Avon’s three-run uprising in the top of the inning, Middletown’s A.J. Quinn – the ninth hitter in the Dragon batting order – got the winning rally started by drawing a one-out walk against Falcons reliever Luke Coppen. Leadoff hitter Tyler Powell then reached on an infield error and Dan Lapham drew a walk to load the bases with one out.
Ryan Quinn followed by lining a single to left-center, scoring his brother to make it a 4-2 game, and when Avon’s outfielders failed to field the ball cleanly, Powell raced home, Lapham moved to third and Ryan Quinn slid into second.
With Avon’s lead cut to 4-3 and first base open, Coppen issued an intentional walk to Eric Wilson to load the bases again. Mason Neumann quickly lined a sharp single to center, scoring Lapham with the tying run, keeping the bases loaded and setting the stage for Diego Carrillo, a junior outfielder.
Carrillo came through with a line shot that ricocheted off the second baseman’s glove and bounced into center field, scoring Ryan Quinn with the winning run to complete the comeback.
“It was a fastball that I got a good look at,” Carrillo said. “I just wanted to hit it hard. I was feeling a lot of pressure because my teammates had done such a great job getting hits and coming back to tie the game.
“I didn’t want to let them down.”
Carrillo’s clutch hit made Dragons reliever Justin Almeida the winning pitcher. Almeida got the final out of the seventh after entering the game in relief of starter Luke Weisenberg.
“Luke was just outstanding today, he pitched a great game” Botti said. “I thought our defense could have done a better job of helping him out, but he was just unbelievable.”
Weisenberg, a sophomore, threw 110 pitches in his 6 2/3 innings of work, allowing four runs on seven hits – several of which were of the soft variety – striking out five, walking two and hitting a batter.
“I’m just excited that we came back and won the game,” he said. “I had pretty good command of all my pitches today. My fastball was working real well and my curve was a lot better today than it’s been.”
Middletown took a quick 1-0 lead against Avon ace Alex Grant, scoring in the bottom of the first when Ryan Quinn reached on an error, stole second and raced home on Wilson’s hard-hit single to left.
Avon quickly tied things up in the top of the second on a single by Jacob Wirth and a ringing triple to the gap in right-center by Chase Beloin.
Weisenberg and Grant then traded goose eggs until the Falcons staged their three-run rally in the top of the seventh. Theo Berson and Coppen each had run-scoring singles in the inning while the third run came home on a wild pitch.
Ryan Quinn, who scored two runs, and Carrillo paced the Dragon’s seven-it attack with two hits and an RBI apiece. Wilson and Neumann each had a hit and a ribbie while Powell added a hit.
Coppen, Beloin and Connor Lavore each had two hits for the Falcons while Grant allowed three hits and one unearned run in five innings of work, striking out three and walking three.
The Blue Dragons swing into action again Wednesday when they travel to Muzzy Field to take on Bristol Central.
Avon………..010 000 3–4 8 4
Middletown.100 000 4–5 7 0
Batteries: Avon–Grant, Coppen (6) and Borenstein; Middletown–Weisenberg, Almeida (7) and A.J. Quinn. WP: Almeida; LP: Coppen. 3B: Avon–Beloin. Records: Avon 2-7; Middletown 7-3.