By Nick Curcuru
---- — ESSEX-- Heading into the fifth inning of Sunday’s Intertown Twilight Baseball League semifinal tilt between the first place and defending champion Manchester Essex Mariners and No. 4 Ipswich Chiefs, it appeared that Ipswich was well on its way to a game one victory.
The Chiefs held an 8-2 lead over the Mariners while receiving offensive production up and down the lineup and solid pitching from starter Greg Doucette. But it all unraveled from there.
Over its final two offensive innings of the night, Manchester Essex showed off its offensive mettle exploding for 20 runs going from being blown out to blowing out the Chiefs to the tune of a 22-9 victory at Memorial Field.
With the win, the Mariners are now just one win away from their sixth straight trip to the ITL finals. Manchester Essex has won four of the last five league titles and defeated the Chiefs for the ITL crown just last season.
“They just didn’t quit tonight,” Mariners manager Bryan Lafata said.
“We were pressing a little bit early after falling behind but we stayed focused and started squaring up on the ball which led to a lot of runs.”
The Mariners started the rally in the bottom of the fifth inning plating five runs to cut the Chiefs lead from 8-2 to 8-7. Nate Bertolino cut the Chiefs lead to 8-3 when he singled in Rory Gentile, who led off the inning by reaching on an error. Two batters later, Mike Cain singled in Bertolino to make it 8-4 and was followed by Max Nesbit, who singled in Brett Cahill (walk) to cut the lead to 8-5.
Cain came in to score from third on an errant pickoff throw to first base and Adrian Frattini doubled in Nesbit to cap the scoring in the inning, bringing the Mariners to within one run at 8-7 chasing Doucette in the process.
In the top of the sixth, the Chiefs answered back with an insurance run thanks to a Matt Small solo shot, but the Chiefs bullpen could not hold the lead.
In the decisive sixth inning, Manchester Essex sent 15 runs to the plate as the Ipswich bullpen came unglued.
The Mariners only had six hits, but two of them were grand slams off the bats of Bertolino and Frattini. On top of that, four Ipswich pitchers combined to walk four, hit three batters, and committed a balk that allowed a run to score while the defense committed three errors in the frame.
Ian Buckley drove in what turned out to be the winning runs breaking a 9-9 tie with a two RBI double scoring Bertolino and Cahill who each walked.
Mariners starter Ryan Marques bounced back from a tough first inning to pick up the win. It was a tough night for both starting pitchers as both the Mariners and Chiefs were putting good swings on the ball throughout the contest.
According to Lafata, the familiarity between the two teams may have been what led to such an offensive outburst.
“He didn’t have his best stuff tonight but the offense picked him up,” Lafata said.
“It was tough for both pitchers tonight because these two teams are so familiar with each other. These two guys faced off just last week so both teams know what’s coming. But Ryan hung in there and made some pitches to prevent the game from getting out of hand.”
The Chiefs started the game off on the right foot, plating five runs before the Mariners could even come to bat. Andy Knox delivered an RBI double to make it 1-0 and Tom Radzim followed with a two run shot to make it 3-0 Chiefs just three batters into the game. Chris Zaremba would make it 5-0 later in the inning with a two-RBI double of his own.
Doucette helped out his own cause in the fourth with a two run shot to make it 8-2 Ipswich, but it was all downhill for the Chiefs from there.
Frattini powered the Mariners offense Sunday with three hits and seven RBIs, Buckley had two hits and three RBIs and Bertolino had three hits and five RBIs. Radzim and Zaremba led the offense for Ipswich with three and two RBIs respectively.
The teams have no time to dwell on last night’s game one of the series because game two is tonight in Ipswich (5:30 p.m.).
The Chiefs must win to stay alive, the Mariners will be sending Adam Philpott to the hill with a chance to clinch a spot in the finals.
“We are looking to keep the momentum going and do what we did (last night),” Lafata said. “We just don’t want to put ourselves in a big hole again.”