TWILIGHT BASEBALL: Record-Journal Expos advance to Greater Hartford championship round

TWILIGHT BASEBALL: Record-Journal Expos advance to Greater Hartford championship round


HARTFORD — The Record-Journal Expos cemented a championship berth in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League playoffs with a 4-3 walk-off win over the Middletown Outlaws on Wednesday night at Trinity College.

“We are riding high right now,” said player-manager Sean Zapatka following the victory. “We’re 3-0 and we are heading to the ‘ship and we got to lose two.”

Justin Poirier’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh scored Dave Glueck and sent the Outlaws packing to the loser’s bracket.

“He’s been aggressive and putting the ball in play all year,” Zapatka said of Poirier, a Maloney grad. “That’s all he had to do in that one at-bat. Do what he’s been doing all year and he did.”

In order to make it to Wednesday night’s winners bracket final, the Expos first had to take down the Vernon Orioles, who lost only one game during the regular season. The Expos had handed the O’s that lone defeat and, on Friday, they dealt the top seed a 2-0 decision behind eight innings of shutout pitching from A.J. Hendrickson. RBIs by Hector Gonzalez and John Walter brought in the runs.

“It was probably one of the most intense games I have played,” said Zapatka. “This was their fifth straight regular-season championship. They are a great team.”

The Expos could face the Orioles again. In Wednesday night’s second game, Vernon tangled with No. 2 People’s Bank in an elimination game. The winner will play the Outlaws tonight, with the survivor of that game advancing to meet the Expos on Friday night at Trinity at 7 p.m. in the finals.

The Expos, without a loss in this double-elimination tournament, can afford a defeat. The “if necessary” game would be played Saturday, also at Trinity at 7.

On Wednesday night against the Outlaws, left-handed ace Charlie Hesseltine took the mound for the Expos and pitched a complete game. The former pro out of Maloney finished with seven strikeouts and two earned runs on eight hits.

“Charlie is definitely over 50 innings now after the playoffs,” Zapatka said of his workhorse. “It’s more than I could have asked for.”

Mike Peckham opposed Hesseltine on the mound for Middletown. He pitched the full way as well. Peckham allowed three earned runs on nine hits, striking out three.

The Expos got the offense going from the get-go, something that hasn’t happened all too often in the playoffs. After a Glueck walk loaded the bases, a Don Milardo grounder to third scored one run as the Outlaws got the force at third.

“Our speed is our biggest advantage,” said Zapatka. “Everyone on the base paths can take an extra base at any given time and we are aggressive.”

Only one run scored in the first inning, as the Expos stranded two baserunners.

“We left a lot of guys on base today,” said Zapatka. “Today we didn’t have the timely hitting and it could have come back to bite us, and it did in the sixth.”

Hesseltine made the lead stand up. He shut down the Middletown offense through five innings.

In the meantime, the Expos extended their lead. One run scored in the third thanks to an error on a Milardo hit. Another came home in the bottom of the fifth on a Poirier single.

With a 3-0 lead and Hesseltine dealing, it looked to be smooth sailing from there for the Expos. It wasn’t. A fly to right center dropped in and scored the first run of the game for the Outlaws in the top of the sixth. The Outlaws tied the game on a two-run single to left with the bases loaded by Nathanial Vezina.

“Middletown had a great inning,” said Zapatka. “They put balls in play and they dropped.”

The Expos went down 1-2-3 in their half of the sixth inning. The veteran Hesseltine hiked back out to the hill.

“You could tell Charlie was getting tired,” said Zapatka. “But he pushed through it and, in the end, he bore down and put them away, which was huge.”

Hesseltine shut Middletown down in the seventh, giving his Expos a chance to end the game in the bottom half of the inning.

“It’s huge,” Zapatka replied when asked how important it is to have pitcher like Hesseltine and Hendrickson go as far as they can in a game. “Our pitching depth is almost non-existent.”

The two aces have the Expos on the verge of the postseason championship after going 11-13 in the regular season.

“These three [playoff] wins have been the epitome of team wins for us,” said Zapatka. “This is the playoffs. Crazy things happen. When it comes down to it, anything can happen.”

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