The second-seeded New Bedford Bay Sox got five big runs, three unearned, in a costly fifth inning, climbing back and taking the first game of the Eastern semifinals from Laconia by a score of 6-3.
The Bay Sox collected less hits and committed more errors than the visiting Muskrats, but were able to overcome. Laconia’s two errors, one of which did not affect the outcome of the inning, yielded the three runs that were the difference in the game. New Bedford’s three misplays did not account for any runs.
The Bay Sox struck for the lead early in the first inning, capitalizing on a leadoff double from Sean Riley (Bridgewater), scoring him on a Zach Stone (Millersville) groundout. The home team got a second double in the second inning, and looked poised to expand their lead. But Kyle Mullen (St. Joseph’s) had other plans.
The second double, from Alex Baldock (Buffalo), would be the last Bay Sox baserunner until the fifth. Mullen went on an out surge, setting down eight batters in a row, a span that included four of his five strikeouts. During that time, Mullen’s offense was able to put him ahead by two runs.
In the top of the fourth, Bay Sox starter Colton Cross (Kennesaw St) looked like he might fall apart. He walked leadoff man Vince Conde (Vanderbilt), and was visibly bothered by his presence at first base. Clearly overthrowing, Cross was able to strikeout Chris Harvey (Vanderbilt), but then walked Joe Torres (Iona), and threw two wild pitches to put the runners in scoring position.
Tim Swatek (Fordham) brought Laconia’s first run home on a soft single to shallow right field. Regan Flaherty (Seminole CC) followed with a high sacrifice fly to left field. A single later, John Ziznewski (Rockland CC) singled in Swatek, but Corey Stringer (Fort Scott CC) was thrown out at third on a tag play just after the run crossed to end the inning. Laconia led 3-1, and could have had more.
Mullen’s streak concluded an inning later, when the Bay Sox order came back around to Baldock to start the fifth. He singled, followed by another from Andy Lalli (SNHU). The hit through the left side got to emergency leftfielder Stringer, who did not keep it in front of him, moving both runners up. Rattled by this, Mullen then surrendered hit first walk of the game to load the bases, nullifying the error.
He recovered with a double-play ball, but Carl Anderson (Bryant) got out of the box well and broke it up at first, plating a run. Anderson’s effort sparked a big inning for New Bedford, and sent Laconia back a step. Riley then singled in the game-tying run. A strikeout later, with two men on, a bouncing ball that would have been the third out got through Conde, further opening the door.
Mullen exited the game an RBI single later, suddenly in line for the loss. Kevin McGowan (Franklin Pierce) got a big strikeout, but the wild slider bounced to the backstop, bringing home another run. New Bedford batted around, as Baldock fanned to finally end what he initially started.
Laconia would not recover, stranding 12 men on base at a clip of at least one an inning. The Muskrats could not take advantage of back-to-back errors from New Bedford shortstop Peyton Hart (Kennesaw St) to start the seventh. With Wil Leathers (Spartanburg Methodist) going from second, Conde reneged on a bunt attempt, leaving the runner helplessly thrown out on his way to third.
Mullen took the tough loss, his second all summer, giving up only three earned runs, six hits and one walk in 4.2 innings. McGowan was lights out in relief, surrendering just one hit, while wiping out six strikeout victims in 3.1 innings.
Cross hung around long enough to earn the win. Ziznewski had three hits for Laconia, giving him a total of ten hits in two postseasons with Laconia, an all-time team lead. Harvey had two doubles.
New Bedford’s last postseason victory came exactly five years ago to the day, on August 3rd, 2007. The then-Torrington Twisters, with Stephen Strasburg on for the save, defeated the Manchester (CT) Silkworms. This game was an exact rematch, as the Silkworms were the predecessors of the Muskrats franchise.
The two teams, who so evenly split their eight-game series this summer, will face off again in Game 2 Saturday night at Robbie Mills Field in Laconia at 6:30 PM. New Bedford has the chance to win and advance to the Eastern Division finals, while Laconia will try to force a Game 3 Sunday. Nevin Wilson (Vanderbilt) will get the ball for the Muskrats.