Johnson honored, PBF rallies past Naugatuck

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NAUGATUCK — Mike Diurno slammed a two-run single to right, scoring Ryan Genua and Jack DeBiase in the top of the seventh inning as Prospect-Beacon Falls came back to defeat Naugatuck, 5-4, Saturday at Ray Legenza Field in Naugatuck.

A color guard from the Naugatuck American Legion, Post 17 helped honor the late Franklin Johnson, Sr. before the season opener between the Prospect-Beacon Falls and Naugatuck American Legion baseball squads.

Prior to the start of the game, the Naugatuck American Legion, Post 17 honored the late Franklin Johnson, Sr. A color guard from the post stood behind home plate, in front of an insignia of Johnson’s initials inscribed on the field, as Johnson’s grandson, Mathew, recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

Speakers Phil Arcuri from the VFW and Fran Keith, Johnson’s longtime friend from Post 17, addressed the crowd along with Frank Johnson, Jr. and his family.

“I used to refer to him as Mr. J.,” said Post 17 head coach Ron Swierbitowicz. “Frank Johnson was an icon. He was a friend to all and had no enemies.

“He gave me an opportunity at a very young age to coach the Legion team,” he continued. “He is the reason we have American Legion baseball in this town.”

On behalf of the baseball team, Swierbitowicz honored the Johnson family with a plaque donated by B&G Sports describing the dedication Frank Johnson, Sr. had for the Post 17 baseball program.

Frank Johnson, Jr. spoke to the crowd, thanking Post 17 and the baseball team for the tribute to his father.

“My dad would have loved this,” said Johnson. “Recently, they named a street after my dad, but today’s honor is very special because he loved this baseball team.”

Emcee Ryan Walker announced both teams as they took the field, and the 2010 Post 17 season got underway.

Greg Rice surrendered a run in the first inning on a few hits that never left the infield.

Rice went on to retire 10 in a row, five on strikeouts, as Post 17 took a 3-1 lead into the top of the fifth.

Mark Wilson led it off with a double into the left field corner in the first, and came around to score on a single to center by Zack Dreher.

Rice drew a walk in the second and scored on a two-out single down the right-field line off the bat of Luis Serrano to give Post 17 the lead.

For the third inning in a row, Naugatuck got to PBF starter Kyle Georgia, scoring a run, but although the pitcher showed bend, he didn’t break.

Georgia gave up a run in each of the first three innings, but over the course of his seven-inning complete game turned in a cagey performance, stranding nine base runners.

Dreher and Serrano hit back-to-back singles in the third and moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt from Arber Mehmedi. Anthony McKernan made it a 3-1 game on a groundout in the hole at shortstop.

Post 17 was rolling along when disaster struck in the fifth. Back-to-back infield errors opened the door, and both runners scored to tie the game. Matt Sherman reached when his ground ball found its way through the shortstop’s legs.

Ryan Mariotti hit a hard chop back to the mound. Rice fielded the ball and quickly turned to second base to start a double play. The ball got away as the throw sailed into center field.

PBF cashed in big time as DeBiase pounded a two-run single to center that tied the game at 3-3.

Post 17 battled back in the bottom of the sixth as Xavier Ortiz singled, went to third on a sacrifice and scored on a wild pitch to make it a 4-3 Naugatuck lead.

In the bottom of the sixth, Naugatuck had a chance to put the game away as they got the bases loaded with two outs, but Georgia came back to escape the jam.

PBF was three outs away from defeat until Ryan Genua worked out a walk on a 3-2 count off relief pitcher Matt Zahornasky to lead off the seventh. DeBiase followed with his third hit of the game.

Diurno slugged a one-out single down the line in right as both runners crossed the plate to put PBF on top by a slim, 5-4 margin. Kyle Beardsworth came on in relief and struck out the final two batters.

Down to their final at-bat, Post 17 threatened with Mehmedi and Zahornasky drawing walks before Georgia slammed the door with his fifth strikeout.

“We didn’t hit much early on,” said PBF coach Jim Augelli. “Both pitchers pitched good games. We strung together a couple of good at-bats late in the game, and Kyle is really a gamer for us. He hung in there and did a great job.”