The Worcester Bravehearts began their 2019 Futures Collegiate Baseball League playoff run Monday at Hanover Insurance Park at Fitton Field with a one game play-in game against the Pittsfield Suns, and it was all Bravehearts in a 10-1 victory that moved them into the FCBL semi-finals.
Ben Rice put Worcester in the lead with a two run single in the first, and in the third Mack Cheli laced an RBI single to center and the Bravehearts got two more on an infield error to make it 5-0.
In the fourth Rice earned two more RBI with a single to center, and he later scored on a Chris Rinaldi triple. In the fifth Mariano Ricciardi singled in a run and John Thrasher knocked in run number ten with a sacrifice fly. Pittsfield would get their only run of the game in the top of the ninth on a Jackson Petersen home run.
Starting pitcher Angelo Baez held the Suns bats in check, allowing just three hits while striking out eight in six innings of work to earn the win. Brendan Case struck out two of the three batters he faced, and Jack Moynihan finished the game with two strong innings.
Tuesday it was a trek east to Campanelli Stadium in Brockton for the first game in a best of three series against the Rox, and once again Worcester came racing out of the gate with a Riley Livingston RBI single in the top of second. In the third the Bravehearts would get three runs on a Rinaldi RBI single, a Cheli double that scored Rinaldi, and a Livingston single that scored Cheli to make it 4-0.
Brockton scored a run in their half of the third, and in the fifth Worcester would make its lead four again on a Tyler Becker RBI double. In the eighth Rice doubled in another run, and the Rox grabbed an unearned run in the bottom of the ninth for the 6-2 final.
Eric Chavarria threw seven innings of great baseball, allowing just two hits and one run while striking out seven. Jakob Barker pitched the last two innings, striking out four.
Because of the American Legion Baseball National Tournament Northeast Regional previously scheduled for the HIP on Wednesday it was on off-day for Brockton and Worcester, and that played a much bigger role in events to come than probably should have been the case.
So Thursday was game two of the Rox/Bravehearts series, and while dodging the rain Worcester stumbled a bit and dropped a 12-6 final. The Bravehearts actually held a 2-1 lead after one inning when Rice hit a two-run bomb that scored Thrasher. But Brockton would get three in the third and eight in the fourth to make it 12-2.
A Rinaldi run scoring single and Cheli RBI double plated two in the home half of the fourth, and a Thrasher home run scored two in the eighth for the 12-6 final. Joe Nemchek and Alex Rosario held the Brockton bats silent over the final five innings, but the damage had already been done.
It was back on the road for the deciding game three of the series, and after the Rox jumped out to a 1-0 lead the Bravehearts put up five in the third to take control of the game. Worcester got their first two runs on an infield error, and then another on a wild pitch. Rinaldi then singled in two to take a 5-1 lead.
The Bravehearts scored on an infield out in the fourth and another in the seventh on a passed ball. The Rox grabbed one in the home half of the seventh, and the Bravehearts capped the scoring in the ninth on a Becker bases loaded walk.
Saturday the Bristol Blues visited the HIP to start the FCBL Championship Series, and Baez was the expected starter for Worcester until the Blues complained that had Worcester played on Wednesday like the original schedule had them playing Baez would not have been eligible to pitch on the usually scheduled game one day on Friday. FCBL Commissioner Joe Paolucci agreed, and ruled Baez ineligible for game one.
So that put Jack Steele on the mound for the Bravehearts, and he pitched an absolute gem, scattering four hits over five and a third innings while striking out four. His best performance came right after his worst when he walked two and allowed a single to load the bases with one out in the fourth. Steele recovered quickly though, and back to back strikeouts by the Rochdale, Mass native ended the threat.
The Blues pitching was just as good so runs looked to be at a premium, and the Bravehearts took advantage of a Blues mistake to score the first run of the game. With Cheli on base after being hit by a pitch Livingston hit a line drive to left. Instead of the left fielder trying to keep the ball from getting to the wall he instead made a diving attempt to catch it. He wasn’t even close to touching it, and Cheli scored easily from first. Livingston then scored on a Becker infield hit to make it 2-0.
The great pitching kept going when Barker took the hill, but he too had one rough inning where Bristol loaded the bases with one out. While the Blues did get a run out of the situation what stopped it from being a huge inning for the Blues was on the scoring play Becker managed to keep a ground ball in the infield at shortstop and force the runner out at third. The next batter grounded out to keep it 2-1, and that’s how game one ended.
Sunday afternoon it was off to Muzzy Field in Bristol for game two of the series with the Bravehearts knowing that if they lost the game they’d get another chance to clinch the title in a possible game three there Sunday evening.
Spoiler alert: They didn’t need to worry as Worcester cruised to a 12-2 win to capture their fourth FCBL championship.
Thrasher got the Bravehearts on the board with an RBI double in the top of the first, and Rice knocked in a second run on an infield out. The Blues would score a run in the home half, but in the third Worcester made it 3-1 when Nicholas Martin scored on a wild pitch. Again Bristol would answer with a run in the home half of the inning.
In the bottom of the fourth there was some controversy when starting pitcher Baez was called for a balk, and in the ensuing arguments Baez was forced to leave the game after Worcester was charged with two mound visits in the inning.
That turned out to be OK with the Bravehearts as Moynihan returned to the mound after his stint on Thursday and mowed down the Blues, allowing just one hit in two and a third innings to earn the win. Case and McCabe Sargent finished off the game on the mound.
At the plate the Bravehearts scored five in the sixth inning. Becker started it with an RBI single, then Trevor Johnson was hit by a pitch to earn an RBI. Ricciardi then laced a two-run single, and a Thrasher RBI single capped the scoring in the frame.
But Worcester wasn’t done as they put up four in the eighth. Martin and Johnson had back to back double for a run, and later in the frame Rice launched a three run blast that put all doubts of another Bravehearts championship to rest.
210Sports’ Bravehearts of the week
Pitcher: Jakob Barker of Seminole State is the winner if a crowded field this week. Barker made four appearances, striking out 12 in six and two-thirds innings. He also earned the save in game one of the final on Saturday.
Batter: Ben Rice from Dartmouth College gets the nod for the second week in a row, batting .348 in six playoff games. He went 8-23, with a double, two home runs, and 11 RBI. he also walked five times and scored six runs.
Tickets to Bravehearts home games can be purchased online or by calling (508) 438-3773.
Around the FCBL
@North Shore 8, Nashua 7; Nashua eliminated
North Shore 3, @Bristol 1
Bristol 12, @North Shore 7
@Bristol 8, North Shore 5; North Shore eliminated