Coming out of the loser’s bracket, Knights of Columbus (K of C) staged an upset Saturday night in what otherwise would have been their longtime coach’s final game, as the West Hartford Youth Baseball League also honored several players and invited a special guest and former coach to throw out the first pitch.
By Sam Newton
In what was potentially his last game coaching in the West Hartford Youth Baseball League, Glynn Baron’s team, “K of C,” sought revenge Saturday night against an undefeated Blue Back Dental (BBD) squad that bested them earlier in the eight-team double elimination postseason tournament, en route to taking the championship on Sunday.
Prior to the start of Saturday’s game, the Jack Flattery award was given out to two 12-year-old players who have demonstrated exceptional leadership, sportsmanship, and citizenship throughout their three years in the major leagues. The two players selected for 2018 were Trevor Tannis from Berry Insurance and Evan Piccioli from Connors Insurance.
Directly after the award presentation, the league honored a prominent figure in town, Capt. Jeff Rose. Rose recently retired after more than 28 years in the West Hartford Police Department. Rose also coached for eight years in the West Hartford Youth Baseball League, and his son Tommy was one of the 2007 Jack Flattery award winners. Thank you, Capt. Rose, for protecting our community!
In game action, it didn’t take long for K of C to show BBD that they weren’t going to let this be their final 6 innings.
In the top half of the first inning, with Tyler Redden on the hill for Blue Back, K of C’s leadoff hitter, Brendan Grady, began the game with a single to the outfield. He then stole second base, and advanced to third on a passed ball. The second batter of the game, Tristan Baron, hit a soft ground ball to the pitcher, ultimately leading to an out but plated Grady with the first run of the ball game. Redden found his control in time for the heart of the K of C lineup, getting a strikeout and another groundout to end the frame.
Taking the field, K of C turned to southpaw pitcher Matt Santoro to lead them to victory in what had to be their most important game of the season, with the team on the brink of elimination. Santoro did not disappoint. He began the first inning by setting down the Blue Back hitters in order, including a strikeout.
Inning number two didn’t offer much offense for either team, as Redden really found the zone by striking out two and getting some help from his second baseman who made a stellar catch on a hard hit ball. On the other side, Blue Back started the inning with a lead off single. This baserunner stole two bases during the inning as he made his way to third base. However, Santoro, feeling the pressure of keeping the undefeated Blue Back squad off the scoreboard, went on to strike out the next three batters, foreshadowing just how solid of a night he was going to have on the hill.
K of C threatened to put another run on the board in the third inning, getting a man to third base on a walk, stolen base, and groundout. However, another groundout to the pitcher, Redden, would retire the side and leave him stranded.
In the bottom half of the third, with the score at 1-0 in favor of K of C, Blue Back was in need of some runs. Santoro had other thoughts, as he fanned three more hitters in this inning, bringing his strikeout total to seven in just three innings.
The top half of the fourth inning proved to be most significant for K of C offensively. The frame started with Redden striking out the leadoff hitter, however this batter would reach first base safely as the Blue Back catcher wasn’t able to cleanly catch the inside curveball.
After a fly out to right field, it was again the top of the order for K of C ready to make an impact. Baron singled to center, with runners now on first and third and one out. Baron stole second, removing the force out opportunity at second base.
Santoro stood in the batters’ box, ready to make his presence felt on the offensive side of the ball. Santoro hit a high fly ball in between the left and center fielder, with the left fielder eventually taking charge and making the catch. However, the ball was hit deep enough to score the man from third, putting K of C up 2-0. With a runner now on third base and two outs, it was crucial for Redden to keep that baserunner at third and maintain a deficit of only 2. K of C’s patience bested Redden, as the next batter would take a base on balls, and right after that an infield single would plate K of C’s third run of the night, and their second of the inning. Redden got the next hitter to pop out to shortstop to end the inning without any more damage.
As for Blue Back’s hitters in the bottom half of the inning, it was more of the same. Three up, three down, as Santoro added two more strikeouts to his total.
The fifth inning for K of C was pretty quiet, as Redden retired the side in order, striking out two and getting a pop out. Up came Blue Back’s hitters in the bottom of the fifth, not used to this situation of being down multiple runs late in the contest. If they were to have a quality shot at coming back to win the championship, at least one run in the fifth could rally this undefeated squad and set them up for a wild finish in the sixth inning.
Santoro, unfazed by Blue Back’s efforts, started off the inning with two more strikeouts. The second hitter of the inning would be his last of the game, as Santoro reached the 85-pitch count limit that’s set for these young studs to preserve the health of their pitching arm. Santoro’s final stat line was: 4 and 2/3 IP, 0 ER, 11 K, 1 BB, and 1 HBP. This pitching line was outstanding, and undoubtedly enough to garner a win and send the team to a win-or-go-home game 2.
Baron came in as pitcher for K of C but had to face only one batter in the fifth inning. This batter actually reached base by a walk, however got himself into a rundown trying to steal second base as Baron threw the ball to first just to check the runner, yet proved to be much more impactful by recording the out.
Redden started the top half of the sixth inning with a groundout to himself. He went on to walk the next two hitters, resulting in a pitching change for Blueback, as Redden had now hit the 85-pitch count limit.
With runners on first and second, one out, and down three runs, all the pressure was on the new pitcher for Blue Back to keep his opposition in check and give his team a chance to either tie or win the game in the bottom of the sixth. The first batter he faced hit a ground ball right back to him, resulting in a fielder’s choice to second base.
There were now 2 outs, with runners on first and third, and Santoro stepped into the batters’ box. Santoro had already done more than enough to help his team survive this game with his stellar performance on the mound; however he felt as though a three-run lead was not enough against the number one team in the league.
Santoro got a fast ball right down the middle and sent it to the fence on one hop, plating both runners and extending the lead to 5-0. Blue Back was lucky not to have been down even more heading into the last half inning, as their shortstop made a tremendous diving, run-saving catch to end the inning with Santoro stranded on third.
K of C could feel it heading into the bottom of the sixth. They were three outs away from doing what no other team in the league had done yet – beat Blue Back Dental. Down five runs, Blue Back would have needed to string together a lot of hits and runners in a row if they were going to have any chance to come back. On the mound for K of C, Baron decided enough was enough, and retired the side in order, ending the game and extending his father’s coaching career to one more winner-takes-all championship game.
Final Score: 5-0 (K of C)
Notable players: Matt Santoro, Tristan Baron, Tyler Redden
On Sunday night, Knights of Columbus won the Majors Division double elimination Championship tournament by defeating Blue Back Dental 8-2. K of C came out of the losers bracket to beat the previously-undefeated BBD twice. This was the third year in a row that K of C won the WHYBL Majors Championship.
Universal Connectivity (Columbia) Fireflies won the Minor League Championship at Wolcott Park 10-8 over Nature’s Grocers (Corpus Christi) Hooks.
Gent Financial Group Nationals won the Instructional League Championship at Fern Park 13-12 over Vertical Talent Solutions Pirates.
WHYBL also held its year end “Training League Jamboree” where all 5- and 6-year-olds come together one last time as teams and as a league to participate in fun drills and games together. More than 100 kids participated in this popular event Sunday at Sterling Field.
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