WALLINGFORD — Star Auto’s esteemed right-hander Liam Ohlmann was concerned that he was losing steam.
After blowing through the Excutive Kia lineup over the first two innings, the former professional struggled through the third.
He yielded leadoff hits to start the fourth and fifth, but his competitive spirit, his bat and the heroics of leadoff hitter Sal Savo enabled Star Auto to persevere.
Ohlmann fired a three-hit shutout and drove in two runs with a sixth-inning double to lead the Automen to a 5-0 win Sunday over Executive Kia in the first game of the best-of-three series for the Wallingford Twilight League championship at Pat Wall Field.
The teams will square off against Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. for game two with a third clash slated for Wednesday night if necessary.
“Any time I put Liam on the mound I have 100 percent confidence in him that we’re going to come out with a victory,” Star Auto player/manager Kevin Weir said. “I can’t ask for anything more out of him. He always does a good job and we gave him some good defense.”
Weir said the ranks were somewhat depleted with slugger Juan Batista, the versatile Mike Thomas and three others unavailable and felt the offense was a little flat as a result. Executive Kia starter Ryan Cappetta (5 1/3 innings, 7 hits, 5 runs) had command of his pitches and held the Automen to three this and two runs over the first five frames.
“Hopefully Tuesday we come out and jump on them right away,” Weir said. “[Cappetta] kept them in the game.”
Ohlmann struck out 11 and walked just one. After allowing a leadoff hit to Cappetta in the fifth, he retired the next nine hitters, four on strikeouts. He struck out the side in the seventh.
“I ran out of gas in the third inning, but I got a second wind in the seventh,” said Ohlmann, who played two seasons of affiliated professional ball in the Milwaukee Brewers chain and three on the independent circuit.
“I didn’t do a good job with the leadoff hitters. I was just trying to get ahead of the guys, but they put the barrel on the ball,” Ohlmann said. “But we made a lot of nice plays in the field and [Jim Cox] did a great job behind the plate.”
Savo (1-for-2, 2 runs) worked his magic on the base paths in the first and third innings to provide Ohlmann a 2-0 lead.
He worked Cappetta for a walk in the home first, stole second and scored when Ryan Verdi rapped a single to right.
With one out in the third, Savo singled into the hole, stole second, took third on Verdi’s grounder and scored on an infield hit by Tim Bickford (2-for-3).
“I try to find that one good pitch and drive it. If not, wait on a pitch and try to get on base,” said Savo, who played collegiately at Johnson and Wales after graduating from Notre Dame-West Haven.
“I know I’ve guys hitting behind me who can move me over if I can’t steal a base and if I do steal a base I know they can drive me in.”
Executive Kia (5-13) had a chance to alter momentum in the third. Cappetta (2-for-3) lashed a double to the gap in right and Andy Mazzone drew a walk. With one out, Steve Connors bounced to third baseman Jemal Bethea.
The throw to second was in the dirt, but Bickford scooped it to save a run.
Ohlmann fanned Tim Russo to end the threat.
“For who we had here tonight, it was a group effort and I’m happy with the way my guys played,” Weir said.
His smile got wider in the sixth.
Bickford laced a double to center and scored when Bethea dropped a one-out single in short center. Nick DeLizio’s single sent Bethea to second and both moved up on a passed ball. Ohlmann picked out a 1-1 delivery from Cappetta and it proved to be his last. Ohlmann rifled a two-run double to center.
“It was nice to come down and help Kevin and the guys out,” Ohlmann said. “I have fun when I come here.”
Kia manager Scott Sobkowiak, who came on to retire the last two Star Auto hitters, had the only other hit off Ohlmann, a single to right to start the fourth inning.
Star Auto is now 20-5 overall.
“The guys know how to win,” Weir said. “You don’t put up 20 wins in a season if your guys don’t have the right attitude.”