Monday, August 30, 2010

Mariners topple Townies to take third ITL title in a row

Mariners topple Townies to take third ITL title in a row
By Jason Brisbois/
Posted Aug 25, 2010 @ 07:26 PM

If games one and two of the series gave no inkling as to who was going to come out on top during the Intertown Twilight League finals, game three left little doubt who fortune was going to favor.

After Manchester Essex took game one in a tightly-contested pitchers duel, and Rockport came back with a strong offensive display in game two to knot the best-of-five series at 1-1, it appeared that fate was leaning toward the Townies during game three last Wednesday.

That is, right up until the seventh inning.

Down 4-1 in the bottom of the final inning of the game, the Mariners mounted a memorable comeback, scoring four runs to pull out a 5-4 victory.

“In my 19 years in the league, plus all my years playing in college, that was one of the best endings – and craziest games – I’ve been a part of,” said Manchester Essex player/coach Bryan Lafata.

It was the momentum from this victory that helped the Mariners close out the Townies in game four on Saturday, a 3-1 win earned on the arm of ace Steve Stout, who also pitched a gem in game one of the series for Manchester Essex.

With Manchester Essex winning the series, 3-1, the Mariners have now won the last three ITL championships in a row, with the Townies winning two prior to this. The 2010 series was a rematch of last year’s series between Cape Ann’s two entries into the oldest amateur baseball league in the country.

With the history as such, and the fact that the last two finals featured the two teams that have won at least the last five ITL championships, one could argue the Townies and Mariners are the equivalent to their league that the Lakers and Celtics were to the NBA back in the 1980s.

“It’s always a great rivalry, a great battle,” said Lafata. “I heard from former Townies players when they congratulated us on winning, saying, ‘Man, those Townies still know how to fight.’ It’s always a good series. Even the retired players get the itch to play again when they read about it in the paper.”

Game three was probably enough to get retired players from both sides itching to play again, with former Mariners wishing they were part of the big comeback and former Townies hoping to dust off the cobwebs and help their team bounce back and get back into the series.

The bottom of the seventh in game three began with Nate Bertolino reaching on a fielder’s choice, and was then subsequently brought home by Joe Orlando’s single. Charlie Choate hit a monstrous two-run homer to left center field to tie things up at 4-4. Former Gloucester High School star Brett Cahill drove in the game-winner with a walkoff homer off of Rockport pitcher Mike Emerson.

“I think our pitcher, Mike Emerson, ran out of gas there,” explained Rockport player/coach Jeremy Spittle. “They have guys one-through-nine who can hit, and we were hoping he could give us one more good inning. We had a chance for a double-play that would have given us two outs and no one on, but it didn’t turn out that way. We weren’t able to make the play we needed.”

“Choate’s two-run homer was a no-doubter,” said Lafata. “So the place was going crazy. Cahill had a great at-bat and got it to 3-2 and hit the game-winner. And it all happened so fast. If Cahill doesn’t hit that homerun, it was too late to play extra innings. We’d have to play the game entirely over, and it wouldn’t have much helped us with the injuries we’ve had, or Rockport being short on pitching.”

Game four was a near duplicate of game one. The same pitchers from that game – Steve Stout and Derek Osmond – faced off in that game. Both pitchers were masterful in game one and game four. And ultimately, it was Manchester Essex that prevailed at the end of both games.

In Saturday’s game-one, series-clinching win, Stout allowed only an unearned run and eight hits while striking out four and walking two. Osmond allowed only six hits and two earned runs, while hitting two batters and issuing a walk.

Also similar to game one, the Townies were able to hit, but weren’t able to do much with runners on base, while the Mariners were able to string some hits together and make things happen. The most crucial inning for the M’s was the fourth, when Manchester Essex’s Mike Cain hit a solo homer to tie things at 1-1. Shortstop Whit Graham reached base on a single, and Rory Gentile advanced Graham to third with a single of his own. Lafata’s line drive scored Graham and gave the Mariners the lead for good, and ultimately, the series.

The rest was up to Stout, and he delivered in spades.

“He pitched 14 innings in this series and didn’t allow an earned run,” explained Lafata. “People watch him in games and don’t think he’s very intimidating because he’s a soft-throwing lefty. But he hits his spots and he throws strikes. “

Despite posting the loss on Saturday, Spittle stated Osmond was essential to his team’s success this season.

“Without him, I don’t think we make it to the finals,” said Spittle. “We might not win the first series versus Rowley without him. He’s an important piece for us.”

As a result, Osmond is considered an important piece not just for the present, but for the future of the team as well. And he’s not the only young Townie to show promise this year.

“I like to think that we overachieved a bit this year, given our struggles during the regular season,” explained Spittle. “It was a good building block. Including myself, we’ve got some of the older guys mixed in with the younger guys, and I thought we overachieved. At the same time, it was good to get that experience for the younger guys.”

In the meantime, the Mariners can celebrate their third title in three years, with designs on a fourth thanks to this year’s performance, and an influx of young players of their own, including Brett Cahill and Alex Ray.

“We’ve won the last three, and Rockport won the two before that,” said Lafata. “It took me a good 14 years to get one championship. Now, I’ve won a few in a row, and every one is different. There’s always a new face here and there. We get new guys, some guys hang up their cleats and the next year is the same thing.”