MERIDEN — Dan Berger was on the mound when Meriden Post 45 was eliminated in the American Legion state tournament last year by Norwalk.
The righty did not like that feeling and was not going to let that happen again this summer when the teams met again in the postseason. Berger went all nine innings to lead No. 9 Meriden to a 6-3 first-round victory over No. 16 Norwalk at Legion Field on Sunday afternoon.
“He wanted this game really bad because Norwalk knocked us out last year and he was on the mound,” Meriden coach Doug Wedge said. “He was a bear out there. He was throwing as hard in the ninth inning as he was in the first. Our defense in the infield was terrible and it was all on Danny to shut them down.”
Berger escaped three major jams and the Post 45 offense dropped three successful suicide squeeze bunts as the Silver City squad padded its lead.
Norwalk opened the scoring with a run in the first on a Kegan Roberts RBI single.
Post 45 wasted little time tying the game against Norwalk starter Will Clyne. In the home half of the first, Mike Gulino delivered a sacrifice fly to drive in Jon Walter.
In the fourth, Will Kszywanos set up Meriden’s second run with a one-out single. He moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on a two-out single by Kyle Hartenstein.
Post 45 scored again in the sixth without the benefit of a hit. Gulino reached on an error to start the inning and immediately stole second base. Kszywanos grounded to short to move Gulino to third. Dallas Defrancesco dropped a perfect suicide squeeze bunt to expand the lead to 3-1.
Norwalk tied the game 3-3 in the seventh with an RBI double by Trey Newcomb and a RBI single by Roberts, but Meriden regained the lead for good, 5-3, with some more small ball in the bottom of the frame.
Kyle Pelcher and Brandon Valentin opened with singles. They were on second and third with one out when Hector Gonzalez laid down a suicide squeeze bunt. Pelcher scored and Valentin followed him after Clyne’s throw ricocheted off the Norwalk second baseman’s glove and rolled into right field.
“With wood bats, you have to manufacturer,” Wedge said. “You can’t sit back and wait for guys to get hits. We run and we will play tack-on baseball, and when you bunt and put guys in motion, it puts pressure on the defense. We try to give our pitchers as much of a cushion as possible.”
In the eighth, Hartenstein scored the final run of the game. The lefty stroked a one-out double, went to third on a single by Dmitri O’Donnell and was squeezed home by Pelcher.
“To get those bunts down and get those runners in from third is a big deal,” Hartenstein said. “We feel we can play with anyone, and this was a great way to start the tournament.”
Berger worked around two base runners in the ninth to seal the complete game win. He threw 144 pitches.
“He was still throwing the ball well and locating the ball well and he said he felt alright,” Wedge said. “The only play was for O’Donnell in the ninth if Danny gassed, but he was throwing the ball free and easy.”
Berger scattered 13 hits and induced clutch double plays in the fourth and eighth innings to minimize the damage.
“I just wanted to throw strikes,” Berger said. “We made some errors but we made up for it with the bats.”
Meriden will travel to No. 8 Orange today for a second-round game at 3:30 p.m. Orange topped No. 17 Naugatuck 8-3 on Sunday.
“We have confidence and Dmitri going (today) and we are ready for anything,” Berger said., 22-
Bethel 9, Wallingford 4: The Admirals eliminated Wallingford with the victory at Bethel High School.
Wallingford closed out the season at 14-15. Bethel, 22-6 overall and 14-0 at home, hosts Berlin this afternoon in a second-round game. Berlin clipped Stratford 1-0 on Sunday.