Junior Legion walks off with dramatic win

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Naugatuck’s Jason Bradley slides across home plate to give American Legion Post 17’s junior squad a dramatic 5-4 win over Stamford as teammate Kevin Mariano (42) runs in to celebrate Monday afternoon at Rotary Field in Naugatuck in the opening game of the state tournament. –KEN MORSE
Naugatuck’s Jason Bradley slides across home plate to give American Legion Post 17’s junior squad a dramatic 5-4 win over Stamford as teammate Kevin Mariano (42) runs in to celebrate Monday afternoon at Rotary Field in Naugatuck in the opening game of the state tournament. –KEN MORSE

NAUGATUCK — It didn’t look like Naugatuck’s night at the ballpark Monday as American Legion Post 17’s junior squad trailed Stamford heading into the bottom of the sixth inning of a state tournament opener.

When Naugy head coach Zac Dreher and second baseman Matt Whitney were ejected by the home plate umpire, fans may have been eyeing a route for a quick getaway.

But suddenly it all changed. Naugatuck plated three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to stun Stamford, the defending state champion, in a 5-4 seat-grabber.

Kyle Plasky led off the seventh by working out a walk and Josh Aviles sliced a single down the right field line. Jason Bradley got every bit of a fastball, appearing to send a game-tying triple to left field, only to have the umpire rule a foul ball and the runners had to retreat to their bases.

On the very next pitch Bradley reached out and drove an opposite-field triple off the fence in right to tie the game, giving reason for Naugatuck fans to make an awful lot of noise.

“I thought I had it on the previous pitch, sending a drive to left,” Bradley said. “I got back in there and stayed focused. He delivered a pitch up in the strike zone and I just went with it.”

Stamford took no chances and decided to intentionally walk Spencer Dreher and Evan Pelliccia to load the bases and set up a force at the plate. Ethen Mester ended the drama, sending a 1-1 pitch up the middle as Bradley slid head first across the plate for the winning run.

Bradley quickly got to his feet and high tailed it towards the outfield as his delirious teammates chased him down for a well deserved celebration.

“I knew we would make a comeback,” Mester said. “They walked the bases loaded and all we needed was a ball to the outfield. If it wasn’t me it would have been someone else. There is no quit in this team and it felt great when I saw it get through.”

Spencer Dreher has been lights-out all season for Post 17 but wasn’t as sharp as he’s been with a two-week layoff heading into the state tournament. Stamford tacked on runs in the first and third innings, aided by a pair of errors, to take a 2-0 advantage.

Naugatuck wasted prime opportunities when it stranded two runners on base in the third and fourth innings. Aviles drew a walk and Bradley singled to set the table in the third before Stamford pitcher Jalen Brown slammed the door on the uprising.

Post 17 was at it again in the fourth when Pelliccia singled and Kevin Mariano got a hit deep in the hole at shortstop. Brown recorded the next two outs to keep Post 17 off the scoreboard.

Naugatuck finally cashed in to tie the game in the fifth. Aviles singled and Bradley sent home the run on a single up the middle. Spencer Dreher belted one to second base and Bradley broke for home. The throw to the plate got away for an error to tie the game at 2-2.

Two walks and an error handed Stamford two runs in the sixth before Dreher pulled the plug in the seventh as Naugatuck came to bat in the bottom of the seventh.

“I wasn’t at my best,” Spencer Dreher said. “But I have a lot of confidence in these guys and I knew they would back me up. They scored runs they shouldn’t have but once we got the opportunities late in the game we delivered.”

Dreher went the distance, scattering five hits with four strikeouts and three walks to improve to 7-0 on the season. Bradley set the pace at the plate going 3-for-4 with three RBI.

Naugatuck advanced to Wednesday’s quarterfinals against Fairfield at Bethel High, where Post 17 fell to Fairfield 10-5.