Sometimes, baseball can be a game of bounces. The Naugatuck 15-year-old Babe Ruth all-stars learned that the hard way last Sunday in the District III championship game.
Naugy held a 7-4 lead entering the bottom of seventh inning but could not hold on after a hard-hit ball took a tough hop past second baseman Nolan Kinne, igniting a three-run, game-tying rally for Shelton. The hard-luck hit led to three runs, extra innings and ultimately an 8-7 loss for Naugatuck.
Entering the game, Shelton needed to defeat Naugatuck twice to capture the district title. They did so with not one, but two last-at-bat victories in extra innings on the same day.
The heartbreaking losses ended an otherwise strong performance for Naugatuck in the tournament. The borough team won its first three games against Ansonia, Shelton and Seymour, respectively, and won the so-called winner’s bracket.
“You’ve got to take your hats off to Shelton,” Naugatuck head coach Mike Bisson said. “They were two fantastic baseball games played by 15-year-olds.”
Shelton took game one, 3-2, in nine innings—but not before Naugatuck showed fight.
Matt Bradley, who provided a lift at the plate and the field for Naugy, delivered a two-run single to score Karl Johansen and Mike Burns and tie the game at two in the fifth. Earlier in the inning, Bradley threw out a runner at the plate with a strong throw from left.
Naugy starter Adam Neveski kept the game tied through seven. Neveski, the team’s No. 1 starter, left after the seventh and allowed two runs and four hits, striking out three and walking none.
Naugatuck could not convert with runners on first and second and no outs in the bottom of the eighth. Shelton went ahead in the next inning.
In the top of the ninth, Shelton broke the deadlock with a sacrifice fly that scored Mike Backert, who made a clean and hard slide to the plate to knock the ball from Johansen’s glove after a strong throw from Jonathan Bisson in center. That run was the difference.
In game two, Naugatuck came out swinging.
Jonathan Bisson smashed a two-run double in the first to score Neveski and Seth Mulhall. In the second, Naugy plated three more runs thanks to a Kyle Lopes RBI single and two groundouts.
Naugy scored two more in the fourth. Jonathan Bisson, who also had eight putouts in center, provided another run-scoring double and Zach Williams added an RBI single to give Naugatuck a 7-2 lead.
On the mound, Burns provided a strong effort to keep Naugy in the game. After tossing 100 pitches on Friday night, Burns pitched seven innings on one day of rest for Naugatuck.
“He was a bulldog,” Mike Bisson said. “You want to talk about a gutsy performance. He showed up on Sunday and said, ‘Coach, I want the ball.’”
Shelton, however, would not go away. With two runs in the fifth and three more in the seventh, the game went to extra innings.
“They just chipped away,” Mike Bisson said of Shelton.
Bisson, who was assisted by coaches Augie Lopes and Bob Burns, had guided some of this all-star team’s players dating back to their days in the minor leagues at Union City Little League. The loss ends a fulfilling run of this group, which included players who began their stints at Peter J. Foley Little League.
“This Babe Ruth team was true Naugy team who felt a sense of commitment to this league,” Bisson said.