Titans walk off with playoff win over Navigators. Story by John Nestor
TORRINGTON - The Torrington Titans didn not have a walk-off win all season but they picked a perfect time for their first Saturday night at Feussenich Park.
Rich Graef worked a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the ninth for bring home Adam Claire with the winning run as the Titans posted a 2-1 victory over the North Shore Navigators in Game One of their best-of-three Futures Collegiate Baseball League semifinal series.
Titans starter Alec Palioca (Wheaton) allowed a run and five hits with seven strikeouts but looked destined to suffer another close loss to North Shore. Palioca was on the losing end of a 1-0 game against the Navigators on August 2 but this time the Titans found a way to scratch out a couple of runs.
Torrington took Palioca off the hook in the seventh as Conor Bierfeldt (Western CT) ended the top of the seventh by catching a fly ball in right field and firing a laser to third base that Claire (Bryant) fielded at the bag on a short hop to get Andrew Harris, who tied to tag from second on the play.
The momentum from Bierfeldt's throw carried over to the bottom of the seventh as Jordan Serena (Columbia) singled to lead off the inning and Claire ripped a shot up the middle that ricocheted off pitcher Jhonneris Mendez's foot and got past secondbaseman Aaron Silbar.
That gave the Titans runners on the corners with no outs and they executed a double steal to tie the game as Claire took off for second, drawing a throw, and Serena raced home for Torrington's first run.
The Titans eventually loaded the bases with one out but Navigators pitcher Miles Landry rebounded from a walk and a hit batter to strike out Graef and Bierfeldt on six pitches to end the threat.
Graef would get another shot to put Torrington ahead in the ninth and he came through.
Claire drew a walk to lead off the ninth and Aldo Ferrante (Polk) reached on a bunt and an error on North Shore reliever Aaron Plunkett whose throw to first was high. Matt Consiglio (UMass-Boston) moved the runners to second and third with a sac bunt and Ryan Zielinski (Castleton State) was intentionally walked to load the bases.
That brought up Graef, a teammate of Plunkett's at UMass-Amherst. Graef got ahead in the count 2-1 and then fouled off a close pitch with the count full before taking a ball outside for a walk, bringing in Claire with the game-winning run.
"It was a tough at-bat, but I just put the previous at-bat out of my mind. I always try to go up there like it's my first at-bat of the game," Greaf said. "Aaron is a teammate of mine, I must have faced him fifty times in scrimmages and I know what he has but it was tough. The last one was outside, which is easier to take."
Travis Landry (Franklin Pierce) got the win in relief, allowing two hits in two innings with three strikeouts. He worked around some trouble in the eighth after a one-out single and double by North Shore put runners on second and third with one out.
Landry retired the side in order in the ninth to set up the Titans for their first walk-off win of the season and sixth win in seven games against the Navigators.
"The way things were going I thought it was going to be one of those nights," Titans coach Misha Dworkin said. "We had a couple things go against us and you know, the baseball gods have a way of evening things out and they got us last time 1-0.
"But we hadn't had a walk-off all year and we battled and finally got one in a big game."
Now the Titans have another big game Sunday and have a chance to sweep the series. They will send their ace, Tyler Dierke (7-1, 0.61 ERA) to the mound for the start.
Dierke (Kenyon) will be facing North Shore for the first time this season and the FCBL's July Pitcher of the Month is ready to go.
"I've felt the best this past week that I have all summer," Dierke said. "I'm really excited to go out there and absolutely give it to them, that's where I am at right now."
North Shore will counter with Joe Gruntkosky (3-1), who has faced the Titans twice this season.
Gruntkosky did not factor in the decision in a 5-2 Titans victory on June 8 in which he allowed one run and four hits with a apir fo walks and three strikeotus. He was the inning pitcher in North Shore's 1-0 victory in Torrington on August 2 as he allowed two hits and two walks in five scoreless innings.