WESTFIELD – Bullens Field was rocking Monday night as a packed house filed in for the third time in four days, this time with vuvuzelas in tow. In a game that lacked the usual offensive spark, the fans witnessed a thrilling pitching duel in the final of the winner’s bracket of the 2014 Babe Ruth Regional Tournament.
Despite putting up just four hits, Westfield’s 14-year-old Babe Ruth All-Stars manufactured single runs in the fifth and sixth innings, thanks in part to six issued walks, to earn a 2-1 comeback victory over Cranston, Rhode Island, and a spot in the championship Thursday.
“Seeing four hits is usually a first inning for us,” said Westfield head coach John Bonini. “We knew they were a good team and it would come down to whoever executes. We played solid defense, the whole offense and defense played better. We did the little things, we executed and that’s what you got to do to win a 2-1 game.”
After Cranston pitcher Jake Palazzo stifled the potent Westfield offense for much of the game, the hosts scrapped to drive in the go-ahead run in the sixth inning. With one out, Palazzo hit Tyler Delgado and then Jack Yvon blooped just the fourth hit of the game. Dillon Bazegian drew a walk to load the bases for rightfielder Andrew Tobias.
With a hit in his statistic column earlier in the game, Tobias faked a bunt multiple times early in the count to force a hitter’s count. After Palazzo forced a full count, Tobias took a ball away, forcing another walk and driving in the eventual game-winning run in Delgado.
“We were waiting for our inning to score some runs,” said Tobias. “Once I didn’t have a sign, I was waiting for the one pitch to hit. I ended up getting a walk, which was good enough.”
Cranston jumped out to a 1-0 lead after their first at-bats. Westfield threatened several times, stranding base runners every inning, but finally broke through in the fifth inning. Connor Koziol singled, then advanced on an errant pick-off attempt from Palazzo. Having advanced on a groundout, Koziol scored on a Matt Masciadrelli sacrifice fly, beating out the strong outfield throw.
“No matter what the score is, these guys battle all game long,” said Bonini. “(Palazzo) pitched a good game. He had that curveball that was keeping our guys off-balanced. We tried to have guys stay off that early in the count. We had some long at-bats that turned into walks, and we battled.”
For the third consecutive game, Westfield benefited from outstanding pitching. This time around, Mitchell Longley received the start and, despite giving up the one earned run, breezed through the Cranston lineup. Longley scattered four hits and struck out four batters.
John Daley once again sealed the win by earning the save, striking out the one batter he faced. His defense, which had committed six errors the last two games, came through in a big way to shut down the Cranston threat. With one out and a runner on second base, the defense caught pinch runner Juan Gonzalez in a rundown, resulting in an ecstatic reaction filled with chest bumps and a raucous crowd reaction.
“You can’t say enough about Mitchell Longley,” said Bonini. “He gave us exactly what we wanted out of him. He pounded the strike zone and threw strikes all night long. We wanted to scrape across a run any way we possibly could. We knew if we got one run, we knew Mitchell or John Daley would shut them down.”
As a result of the win, Westfield earns a break until Thursday afternoon while their opponent will be determined over the next few days. Fellow Western Massachusetts representative Pittsfield looks to fight off another elimination game when they take on Trumball, CT, tomorrow at 6 p.m. at Bullens Field.
Thursday’s championship is scheduled to take place at 4.