By KYLE THWEATT
For the Essex Reporter
Between starting pitchers Mark Connor and Brian Godard, BFA-St. Albans and Essex were hard-pressed to record a hit as the teams combined for just seven in Saturday’s game.
Essex, however, capitalized on several BFA-St. Albans Bobwhite miscues to pull out a 3-1 victory. Shortstop Eli Baez led the Essex Hornets, going three for three with two RBI and four stolen bases. Baez also came on to relieve Godard in the top of the seventh to record the final two outs, bringing the Bobwhite’s late-game rally to a halt.
After a one-out walk to Tyler Tatro, Levi Stanley pulled a single down the left-field line, BFA showing some life despite being down by three runs. With Baez on, Stanley and Tatro took off on the first pitch to Connor, stealing second and third. Tatro scored a few pitches later when Connor grounded out to short, but Baez induced another groundout to short to end the game.
“We got the tying run up to the plate, which is what you want to do in that situation, Bobwhites coach Geoff Murray said. “And it just didn’t work out for us.”
“We put a little pressure on them, but giving up that third run in the sixth … It is a different pressure situation when you have two guys on and it’s 2-0. But Essex did a nice job; they capitalized on every mistake that we made.”
The most glaring of those came in the top of the third, as Connor had been cruising and allowed just two runners to that point. With two outs, Godard hit a ground ball to first that was mishandled. Godard stole second and scored when Joe Robertson ripped a double into the right-center field gap for a 1-0 lead.
BFA threatened in the next half inning, getting a leadoff hit from Kyle Cioffi. After a sacrifice bunt was popped back to the pitcher and a fly out to center, Cioffi looked as though he would be stranded on first. Riley Mangan smacked a two-out single between short and third, and with the outfielder awkwardly fielding the ball, Cioffi’s aggressive play going first to third was successfully, touching the bag just before the tag was applied. However, not getting the sacrifice bunt down came back to bite the Bobwhites, as Tatro flied out to end the inning.
Essex added to its lead in the fourth. Jacob Gaboriault reached on an error, and courtesy runner Jacob O’Connell advanced to second on a groundout and third on a steal. The Bobwhites brought their infield in to cut off the run at the plate, but Baez’ hard ground ball up the middle scored O’Connell to make it 2-0.
With the Hornets still threatening after a walk to Maverick King to set up first and second with one out, BFA pulled off a most unconventional double play. Andrew Vanacore III lifted a base hit to left field, and Matt Sanders’ throw went to home plate, forcing the speedy Baez to hold at third. However, King took a hard turn around second and kept going to third, occupied by Baez. With King turning back to second, catcher Isaac Cioffi threw to the shortstop Tatro, who with second baseman Stanley forced King into a rundown. Baez took off for the plate, drawing a throw from Stanley to Connor, who tagged out Baez before he scored. King then took off again for third, but was tagged out by Brady Green to end the inning on a 7-2-6-4-1-5 double play.
In the two at-bats before their seventh-inning rally, the Bobwhites mustered just a single runner while the Hornets pushed across their third run on an RBI single by Baez.
Godard pitched 6 1/3 innings with five strikeouts, allowing just three hits. Connor threw a complete game with eight strikeouts, allowing just two earned runs and four hits.
“Mark pitched a whale of a game, and probably deserved a better fate,” Murray said. “But their pitchers shut us down. Let’s face it, it was a game of if you get somebody on, you’ve got to get them to second and see if you can knock them in. We had a lot of trouble today executing, getting the guy to second base to give us an opportunity. We played a pretty clean game today.
“We only made a couple of mistakes, but every mistake we made, they scored a run. That was the difference.”
The Bobwhites (6-8) will close out their season this week, playing at Milton this afternoon and at home against Mt. Abraham on Thursday.
“Our goal is to regain our consistency and to be playing our best in the playoffs.” Murray said, “In a one-game scenario, you never know what is going to happen. Our goal is to get to the playoffs playing our best, and if we play like we did today we are going to give some teams fits. But we have to be consistent and clean.”
As a part of Memorial Day weekend, both teams participated in a pre-game ceremony to honor local veterans. For the last several weeks, many teams have taken part in Operation Hat Trick, an initiative that generates awareness and funding for wounded soldiers. BFA held a similar ceremony on May 14 when it hosted Middlebury.
“It is a great cause to give back to the people who have given their lives for our freedom,” Murray said. “It kind of puts the game in perspective, that it is just a game. Baseball is America’s pastime, which makes it special to be able to bring the veterans in. They deserve every honor they receive.”