EAST HARTFORD — A pitch and a glitch marked the fine line between victory and defeat for the Meriden Merchants. The inability to get down a bunt in a key spot and a first-pitch fastball that was too sweet enabled Ferguson Waterworks to push the Greater Hartford Twilight League championship to a final showdown after a 1-0 win over the Merchants Monday at McKenna Field.
The Merchants (17-13) and Ferguson (22-10) will meet in a winner-take-all game tonight at 7 p.m. Ferguson defeated People’s United Bank by the same score in Monday’s first game to earn a shot at the Merchants.
Merchants left-hander Ryan DiPietro, pitching for the first time in almost a month, overcame a lacerated toe to toss a complete-game six-hitter, but one of those hits was very costly.
Dan Hickey started the game-winning rally in the bottom of the sixth with a broken-bat single to center. DiPietro got Ken Bratina looking for the second out, but Tommy Meade rifled the next pitch through the alley in right center to score Hickey easily.
Taylor Kosakowski, who saved the first game for Ferguson, slammed the door on the Merchants with a 1-2-3 seventh.
Meriden’s best opportunity against Ferguson starter Jamie Kukucka (6 hits, 8 Ks) came in the sixth when Justin Poirier and Francisco Ascensio (both 2-for-3) singled. Co-manager Rob Tencza tried to get a bunt down, but fouled off two pitches and went down swinging. Kukucka struck out pinch-hitter Ryan Thayer and A.J. Lowers to end the threat.
“We had plenty of chances and that sixth inning was tough,” Tencza said. “That one’s gonna eat me up for awhile. I’ve bunted a thousand times and I couldn’t get it done for my team.”
Kukucka also foiled the Merchants in the second and third. Lowers stroked a one-out single and Charlie Hesseltine walked in the second, but Kevin Hall popped up and Mark Julius grounded to second. Poirier had a one-out single in the third and Ascensio ripped a shot that seemed destined for the right field corner, but first baseman Connor Bremer stabbed the liner and tagging Poirier out.
DiPietro encountered some trouble early, but settled in until the fateful sixth. “The mound got me a little bit. My mechanics were off, so I went into the stretch at the beginning, but there’s no excuse,” DiPietro said. “You just have to go out there and pound the zone. “I felt good. I just got burnt by one or two pitches.”