Baseball Wins Second-Straight NEC Series

Patrick Gustavson, Sports Editor

For the second time in a row, the Central Connecticut baseball team has won a Northeast Conference series after taking two of three from Sacred Heart.

After playing “awkward” and “uninspired” baseball Wednesday in a loss to Stony Brook, per head coach Charlie Hickey, the Blue Devils bounced back, but not until after the first game of the series where they muster just one run in a 4-1 defeat.

Hickey cited a lack of patience and confidence in hitting late in the count as reasons for the offensive woes.

“We swung at a lot of pitches early in the count that weren’t necessarily good pitches to hit. They may have been strikes but they weren’t the pitches we should have been looking for that early in the count,” Hickey said. “When the kids are not having success, there’s a lack of confidence in hitting later in the count.”

But the Blue Devils got the bats going on Saturday, producing eight runs on 12 hits. This was thanks in part to a four-run second inning that saw them connect for three hits and walk four times.

“It was good for us to be patient a little more and allow that to happen. Four is a big inning for us. It doesn’t happen a lot,” Hickey said of the inning.

But when the Pioneers cut the lead to 4-3 after the fourth inning, the Blue Devil bats did not let up, chipping away and scoring a run in each of the last four innings.

“When they got back to 4-3, our ability to get some clutch two-out hits were very valuable. After we struck out with a runner on third with one out, not scoring would have been a momentum builder for them,” Hickey said.

Three runs batted in on the day came from sophomore first baseman TT Bowens, appearing in his third game since returning from knee surgery. Chris Kanios, who also missed eight games due to injury, added an RBI triple in the fifth inning.

Sophomore Matt Bertochi chipped in an RBI single in the eighth after striking out in his first three at-bats.

After junior starting pitcher Brandon Fox made it just four innings, seniors Mike Appel and Jared Gallagher cleaned up in relief, yielding four runs in five innings of work.

Hickey said the decision to go from Fox to Appel early was due to the urgency being down one game in the series and being ahead in the game.

But perhaps the cleanest game of the series was played on Sunday when the Blue Devils took the series by beating the Pioneers by a score of 5-1.

The win featured another big inning, but this time without the aid of walks. Thanks to a groundout from Bertochi and back-to-back doubles by Chandler Debrosse and Bowens, the Blue Devils managed three in the third inning.

That was enough for senior starter Patrick Mitchell, whose only blemish was a sixth-inning home run to Pioneers third baseman Jake Frasca. Mitchell surrendered just four hits in six innings while striking out just one.

Hickey was pleased with Mitchell’s ability to get out of jams, with baserunners being common as Mitchell is a pitch-to-contact pitcher.

Another bright spot for the Blue Devils was the bottom of the order. Sophomore designated hitter Peyton Stephens went 3-for-4 with a double and a run scored. Kanios chipped in with another hit while Bertochi drove in two runs without recording a hit.

The Blue Devils now sit at 5-4 in NEC play and hold possibly pivotal tie-breakers over playoff contenders Wagner and Sacred Heart.

Hickey said he hopes this victory can propel his team with a crucial three-game set with perennial favorites Bryant up next.

“You lose the first game of the series and come back and win two tough games in a row, it shows it can be done,” Hickey said. “And one thing that we had earlier in the year was that we did not have a lot of confidence. Winning this type of series should enhance the confidence.”

He said he hopes his team will continue to commit to their style of play.

“It’s easier to reinforce that message of being unselfish. We’re not going to score 10 runs a game but we’re going to pitch and play defense and have some timely hitting. When everyone sees that we’re victorious, you start to buy into it a little more,” Hickey said. “It’s more about ‘us’ and ‘we’ and hopefully that’s something we can grow on as we move forward.”