Thermaxx Jackets got the grounders they needed to escape the ninth inning against Baybrook Remodelers in the National Amateur Baseball Federation Northeast Regional tournament championship on Saturday night.
Unfortunately for the Jackets, a pair of one-out groundballs to shortstop failed to produce an out, as Kevin Bowerman’s RBI fielder’s choice grounder propelled the Remodelers to a 4-3 walk-off victory at Quigley Stadium in West Haven.
Baybrook (21-9) won the clash of West Haven Twilight League squad’s in the regional championship, the first time ever two WHTL members met in the regional final, and advanced to the NABF World Series in Battle Creek, Mich.
“We find a way,” Baybrook manager Al Criscio said. “They just fight. They want it so bad.”
With the game tied at 3 in the bottom of the ninth, Thermaxx reliever Mike Aquilino struck out Baybrook pinch-hitter Mike Panza to start the inning.
Mike Pascarella then walked on a 3-2 pitch, bringing up the top of the order in Mike Forgione. Forgione hit a grounder to shortstop, but the exchange was mishandled by Thermaxx second baseman Dan St. George.
When the ball skidded away toward shallow right field, Pascarella alertly took third base.
Thermaxx manager J.P. Peloso elected to bring on closer Peter Jay to face Bowerman with runners on the corners and one out.
Bowerman went after the first pitch he saw from the sidewinding Jay, hitting a grounder to shortstop. But the attempted double-play exchange was again botched — as Pascarella crossed home plate with the game-winning run.
“I was just going right for the first pitch,” Bowerman said. “I was expecting fastball… I was just trying to put it in play and make something happen.”
Thermaxx (16-14), which beat Baybrook 3-2 in a nine-inning game on Friday night, trailed 3-1 before scratching across a pair of runs to tie the game at 3 in the top of the eighth.
Baybrook reliever Simon Mathews struck out Lou Ianotti with two outs, but strike three caromed past the catcher Bowerman to extend the inning. Mathews then walked Gus Constantino and hit Casey McCone with a pitch to load the bases.
Criscio replaced Mathews with Kyle Penny, and the right-hander walked Jake Saley to force in a run. Neftali Arroyo followed with a run-scoring infield hit to the tie the game at 3, before Penny avoided further damage by getting pinch-hitter Anthony Alicki to fly out to center.
Penny retired the side in order in the top of the ninth, setting up the Remodelers’ walk-off victory.
“No one is more deserving of a title,” Criscio said of Penny. “I knew he was going to bear down after that.”
Sam Greenberg’s RBI single off of Thermaxx starter Brian Caselli gave Baybrook a 1-0 edge in the bottom of the first, before Thermaxx tied it in the fourth.
Ryan Geffert, who was later ejected for arguing a call with the first-base umpire, doubled into the left-center field gap.
After Baybrook starter Pat Simone retired Ianotti and Constantino, McCone lashed an RBI double to left to tie the game at 1.
Baybrook broke the deadlock in the fourth.
Tom Lanzoni drew a lead-off walk and Matt Ranaudo singled to right field. Chris Zbin relieved Caselli, with Pascarella dropping down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners over.
Forgione’s sacrifice to center field made it 2-1, before Bowerman’s grounder to second was booted for an error that allowed Ranaudo to score.
The score held until the eighth, when Thermaxx battled back to even things at 3.