BRISTOL, Ct. — Suddenly, the offense is a concern for Cumberland American manager Dave Belisle.
“Very concerned,” Belisle stressed after CALL managed just two hits in a 3-0 loss to defending New England champion Fairfield (Ct.) American Tuesday afternoon at Breen Field. The defeat leaves Cumberland American at 1-2 in pool play and in must-win territory heading into Wednesday morning’s contest against Vermont’s Barre Community.
“The Vermont game was one we were looking at to see where we would seed, but now we’ve got to go get it,” mentioned Belisle about his squad needing a win in order to solidify a spot in Thursday’s single-elimination semifinal round.
For a squad that basically bludgeoned its opponents during the District IV tournament and again in state play, scoring 10 or more runs seven times, CALL has been held in check at the New Englands. It’s tough to tell which development is more shocking: the nine hits Cumberland has amassed in three pool play games or the scoreless streak, which now stands at 12 innings after the club was shut out for the second straight day.
“We’ve been highlighted by our offense which hasn’t shown up in the tournament,” Belisle said. “If our hitting can come, and I think it will, we’ll be OK.”
Despite the lack of fireworks with the aluminum, Belisle was pleased with the way his Cumberland American outfit pitched and played defense. Making his first appearance on the mound in over two-and-a-half weeks, starter Connor Mastin was charged with three runs on seven hits in 3 1/3 innings.
Mastin settled down after allowing a towering home run that thankfully only counted for one run in the first inning. Eddie Schwartz, a hulking 12-year-old if there ever was, turned on a 0-2 fastball and cleared the trees located beyond the left field fence. Tournament officials estimated the blast traveled 360 feet.
“I brought my hands through the zone and things happened,” stated Schwartz matter-of-factly.
Mastin pitched a scoreless second and third before running into trouble in the fourth. Fairfield American loaded the bases with no outs behind two singles and a walk. After a fielder’s choice play that cut down the lead runner at home, Mastin issued back-to-back walks to force in a pair of runs. The 12-year-old Mastin walked No. 9 hitter Aidan Kudzy on four pitches before missing on a 3-2 offering to pinch hitter Connor Devaney.
“He just ran out of gas,” said Belisle about Mastin. “He started to elevate his pitches, but I thought he threw a very good game. That’s a very tough lineup.”
Fairfield clinched a spot in the semis before taking the field Tuesday after Andover, Mass. defeated Yarmouth, Maine, 5-3. Armed with that knowledge, Connecticut manager Kevin Flynn decided to have his starter throw just enough pitches that he would still be eligible to go Thursday. Schwartz struck out five of the first six batters he faced before allowing a single to Colin Cannata and a walk with two down in the second inning. He was pulled after 35 pitches and CALL’s Tom Faltus ahead in the count 2-0.
On came Jack Oricoli, who walked Faltus to load the bases. Oricoli came back to strike out catcher Ryan McCormick to extinguish one of the few threats CALL mustered.
At one point, Oricoli retired 11 straight as Cumberland American managed to get the ball out of the outfield just once in the 4 1/3 innings the reliever tossed. In the fifth Oricoli retired CALL on three consecutive comebackers to the mound.
“I came in just wanting to get batters out and that’s what I did,” said Oricoli, whose hitless stint could be traced to the sharp curveball he frequently mixed in.
Despite its hitting woes, Cumberland brought the tying run to the plate with one down in the sixth after Oricoli issued back-to-back walks to Mastin and Max Hanuschak. Oricoli zipped in two quick strikes to Chris Wright before the first baseman-turned-relief pitcher struck out swinging. CALL’s last gasp saw Conor Lavallee strike out on a low pitch, the count 3-2. Fairfield American wraps up pool play at 3-1.
Cumberland’s defense allowed the team to stay within shouting distance. In the second the team recorded a 1-3-5 putout after Connecticut’s Brendan Bucher reached on an infield single. Connor Lynch, who led off the frame with a walk, was gunned down at third by the first baseman Wright.
The last of the third saw CALL turn a nifty 6-3-5 double play that saw Brendan Layne cut down at third after the Fairfield outfielder doubled to start the frame.
“What people haven’t noticed is that we play good defense,” noted Belisle. “When you’re not scoring runs, that’s when you notice the defense.”
Wright followed Mastin with four strikeouts in 1 1/3 innings. It was the type of performance that has Belisle believing that Cumberland American is not done just yet.
“We’ve got our top pitchers ready to go,” he said. “We’ve got to win against Vermont and we’re going to be a tough team to beat. All you want to do is get to the Final Four.”