Greenwich senior Cannons finish season with tough loss to RCP, 7-5

Although the Greenwich senior legion baseball team ended its season two games earlier than it would have liked, head coach Mike Abate still couldn’t be more thrilled with this year’s group of Cannons.

“I am extremely proud of them,” Abate said. “I really am. We were 29-4 and we had to battle back a lot. It wasn’t the easiest state tournament for us. We played every day, and played two games a day. We showed a lot of heart and I really thought we were going to pull this one off, but the ball didn’t bounce our way.”

Greenwich’s tournament run ended after a long Thursday at Bristol.

A day earlier, Greenwich started its game against Oakville, however Mother Nature had other plans for the conclusion. Battling through two lightning delays and one rain delay, Oakville held a 3-0 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth inning and their starting pitcher was hurling a no-hitter. After nearly five hours since the start of the contest, the game was officially postponed, with the game continuing Thursday at noon.

The Cannons were forced to travel back to Bristol for the continuation of the game. The Cannons came firing back to win that game and advance to the semifinals of the tournament later that night against the combined team from Rocky Hill, Cromwell and Portland (RCP).

That was when the magic ran out for Greenwich senior legion, as they fell in the back-and-forth battle with RCP, 7-5.

“They hit the ball,” Abate said. “None of our pitchers were overpowering. They were trying to hit spots, but when we missed spots, they took advantage of them. I thought they hit the ball extremely well early in the game. They are a good team.”

In the first game of the day against Oakville, Greenwich was a determined group and it showed right from the start of the continued game. The Cannons scored five times in the sixth inning and added one more in the seventh to stun Oakville, 6-3.

“Their pitcher came out and a couple of errors opened up the door,” Abate said. “We got the hits when we needed it today and I thought Dylan’s (Callahan) bunt with runners on first and second kind of got the momentum going our way. The guys came up with hits behind him.”

With new Oakville pitcher Ronald Gombos on the mound, Greenwich’s Matt Pruner got the continuation of the game underway by reaching base on an error by the shortstop and taking second on the play. Up next was Stephen Monick and he drew a walk.

Up next was Callahan, who laid down a perfectly placed bunt. The Oakville infielder scooped up the ball but fired high to first. Pruner scored on the play and Monick took third.

A play later, Greenwich cut the deficit to 3-2 when Brendon Hardin laced a single to center field and advanced Monick to third.

After Hardin stole second during Cameron Fennell’s at bat, Fennell smacked a single to right that plated Callahan and knotted the game at 3-3. Taylor Olmstead kept the good times rolling, as he launched a single to right that scored Hardin and gave the Cannons a 4-3 lead.

Greenwich added one more run when Ryan Hardin hit a sacrifice fly to left that scored Fennell.

“Obviously we are frustrated with the whole decision last night,” Oakville head coach Scott Ouellette said. “They had a two-and-a-half hour break, at least, of good weather. So they should have played the game last night. I am very frustrated.”

For the first time this season, Greenwich ace third baseman Fennell stepped onto the mound and he did an outstanding job. In three innings of work, Fennell didn’t give up a hit, struck out one batter and only two Oakville batters were able to get a ball that left the infield.

“He’s been begging me that he could pitch, so I told him to go ahead and he comes out and throws strikes,” Abate said. “They see him as our third baseman and were probably thinking that he can’t pitch, but he was getting ahead on his fastball. We knew he could pitch, but he had shoulder problems in the beginning of the season. He really does have great stuff. We’re finding ways to get it done.”

Fennell came back to start the evening game against RCP, but gave up two runs in the top of the first inning. Although RCP added another run in the top of the third inning, Greenwich came back in the bottom of the third inning with three runs to tie the contest.

Matt Pruner started the inning off with a walk and advanced to third when Monick came up and singled a shot to center field. With one out, Brendon Hardin reached base on an error by the RCP shortstop. Pruner scored on the play and Monick advanced to second.

Fennell came to the plate next and got his revenge on RCP when he unloaded a double to center field that plated both Monick and Hardin to tie the game.

Greenwich took the lead in the bottom of the sixth inning. With one out, David Berdoff singled to left field and took second when Ryan Hardin hit an infield single. Ricky Okazaki kept the inning alive with a single to center that loaded the bases. Pruner stepped up next and hit a grounder to first that drove home Berdoff for the 4-3 lead.

However, that was all Greenwich would get that inning, as RCP pitcher Christian Budzik got Monick to ground out to first to end the inning.

“He’s not a strikeout pitcher,” RCP head coach Jay Hickey said. “He’s always around the plate. The other teams will make contact, but we need to make the plays. We didn’t do that tonight. Four errors against a team like that. We can’t give teams extra outs and we did, but we had our bats going.”

RCP iced the game in the seventh inning, scoring four runs off of Berdoff, who came in to relieve Fennell in the fourth inning.

“It’s always nice to start with a lead, but all of a sudden we were behind,” Hickey said. “The big thing was that when we did give up the lead, we went on a run and put four on the board. We put four on the board and that was the turnaround. It gave us another life.”

Ryan Hardin came in with one out in the seventh inning and shut the door the rest of the way, giving up only two hits and striking out two.

“We came back with Cam and they hit him a little bit, but he did what we asked him to do,” Abate said. “I think Berdoff came in and slowed their offense down. They are a great offensive team. They had one inning where they scored four runs, but Ryan Hardin came in and really showed me a lot. You can tell the heart he puts in and battles every day. I thought we did well.”

With two outs in the eighth, Greenwich mounted a comeback attempt. With Berdoff and Matt Tate on base, Pruner connected on a two-out single to center that played Berdoff and cut the deficit to 7-5. However, that’s as far as Greenwich would get.

Although the Cannons were down, Abate never thought the team was out.

“I am extremely comfortable, especially with this group,” Abate said. “They know how to close. More times than not, if we are in a close game, they pull it off. I thought when we took the lead, good things were going to happen. Even when they put up that four spot, I thought we were going to battle back and we got two runs back. Unfortunately we came up short in the ninth, but there was never a point when I was coaching these kids that I felt like we were out of it. These kids always battle and they always seem to do the job.”

With the talent already in place from the start of the season, Abate knew his team had the potential to go far. The head coach said that what made his team a force throughout the season was its ability to deal with adversity.

“They were able to come back when they were down,” Abate said. “I knew we had the talent, but I loved the team’s ability to get right back up when they’ve been knocked down. We had to travel a lot towards the end of the tournament, dealt with weather troubles and played two games in one day. That didn’t phase the kids and they played tough throughout everything.”

With the season concluded, Hardin, Monick, Brian Schutzman and Berdoff played their final game for the Cannons.

“We’ve got a lot coming back and only four that are leaving, but those four are special kids,” Abate said. “They won a lot of ball games for this program. Brendan Hardin was here since I started and I think he’s won over 115 games in four years. That’s ridiculous.”

With all but four athletes returning for next year, Greenwich is looking to make another run at the postseason.

“We have nearly everybody back next year,” Abate said. “They are going to be one year older, better and hopefully we can make another run and come back up here and finish the job.”

Despite the team’s loss in the semis, it’s hard to deny a team that won 29 games this summer from being considered highly successful.

“I’m honored to coach these guys,” Abate said. “They are always telling me that they are so happy to have a coach like me, but I tell them that I am happy to have players like you. It’s really the players that make the coach. I’ve had the luxury of coaching some damn good players and love them all and respect them all.”


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