For 26 outs on Thursday night, it looked as though the Laconia Muskrats had turned the corner on their six-game losing streak. But before Nic Manuppelli (Youngstown St) could nail down the 27th out, and his sixth save, to finalize that notion, it was gone with the crack of a bat.
Down to his last strike with a runner on in the bottom of the ninth and his team trailing by one, Mike Orefice (Marist) delivered for the Danbury Westerners, who walked off with a stolen, 8-7 victory at the last possible moment.
For Orefice, it was his second bomb of the night, and it capped a Danbury comeback of four runs in the final two frames to extend Laconia’s losing streak to seven games.
The Westerners put themselves in position for a chance at glory after an opportunistic eighth inning. With Laconia scouring the bullpen and a run already home to make it 7-5, a routine pop-fly to left field inexplicably dropped between Joe Torres (Iona) and Connor Castellano (Vanderbilt), allowing that sixth run.
The miscommunication between the outfielders was costly, as a converted out would have sealed the score and kept the game alive after Orefice’s ninth inning heroics.
Losers of six-straight games coming in, the fourth-place Muskrats had an air of confidence about them early Thursday before embarking on their longest bus trip of the summer to Danbury.
They carried it with them to their first at-bats, grabbing four runs in the top of the first, and knocking out Westerners starter Fred Breidenbach (West Chester). After Torres walked to start the game, designated hitter Tim Swatek (Fordham) crushed a ball out of the park in right-center field.
Vince Conde (Vanderbilt) followed with another walk and Danny Collins (Troy) hit a high shot out to deep right field that glanced off Tom Zengel (UNC) and the two-story fence. Conde stopped at third, but scored on the next play, as John Ziznewski (Rockland CC) drove him in with a single. Laconia was up 4-0.
Zengel got a run back for Danbury in the second, with a solo homerun out of center field. But after that, Muskrats starter Kyle Mullen (St. Joseph’s) settled into a serious rhythm, at one point retiring ten straight. Mullen would give Laconia just its ninth quality start in 28 games this summer. His six strikeouts moved him back up to fourth in the NECBL, with 31 K’s in 27 innings.
The homerun show had just begun at Rogers Park, as the Muskrats launched three shots into the Danbury skyline, giving them 50 homers this summer. They are one dinger shy of the NECBL all-time record, set by Keene in 1998.
Laconia got their second homer and fifth run from Collins in the fifth inning, as he lifted one just over the high right field fence. For Collins, it was his League-leading and team-record 12th of the summer. He needs two more to tie the NECBL individual record of 14.
Kyle Convissar (Maryland) joined the party an inning later, with a deep shot to make it 6-2. Convissar played for Danbury last summer, and received a very warm reception from the home fans Thursday.
The game featured seven home runs, as both Orefice and Zengel doubled up. Among the top three in RBI in the NECBL, Orefice led off the sixth inning with his first blast of the night. Zengel followed with his second homer of the game, this one clearing the fence and the road adjacent. Suddenly, it was a 6-4 ballgame.
After a walk, Mullen settled back in to form and got a bouncer back to the mound, with which he started an inning-ending 1-6-3 double play. Mullen’s night would conclude there, in line for the win. In six innings, he scattered five hits, four runs on three homers, four walks, and six strikeouts. Starting in the second inning, Mullen set down ten Westerners in a row, a streak that included five-straight strikeouts, with three-straight down looking.
Laconia has now dropped seven games in a row, and ten of their last 11. They will look to bounce back tomorrow at Vermont at 6:30 PM.