TWILIGHT BASEBALL: Orioles force winner-take-all finale with Record-Journal Expos

TWILIGHT BASEBALL: Orioles force winner-take-all finale with Record-Journal Expos

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Hector Gonzalez and the Record-Journal Expos have been forced to a winner-take-all final in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League by the top-seeded Vernon Orioles. The four-time defending champs beat the Expos 5-0 on Friday night at Trinity College. | Justin Weekes / For the Record-Journal

HARTFORD — The Record-Journal Expos found out on Friday night that it’s hard to put away the champs.

The No. 5 Expos fell 5-0 to the four-time defending Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League champion Vernon Orioles with a chance to clinch the crown at Trinity College’ Murren Family Field/DiBenedetto Stadium.

Friday night’s outcome forces a winner-take-all rematch Saturday, also at Trinity, at 7 p.m.

No. 1 Vernon (27-2 overall, 4-1 playoffs) scored once in the first and four times in the fourth off of Expos’ starter A.J. Hendrickson.

The Orioles, who entered the game with one loss in the playoffs, took an instant 1-0 lead after their first two batters came to the plate. Nick Roy crushed a triple to the right-field fence to start the contest. Dan Trubia drove him in with an RBI single up the middle.

Hendrickson, who had beaten the Orioles 2-0 in second-round game last Friday, worked out of further trouble.

Vernon, however, broke the game open with four runs in the top of the fourth, highlighted by a bases-clearing triple by No. 9 hitter Zach Donahue that went all the way to the left field wall. Shortly after the three-bagger, Donahue scored on an error on a fly ball off the bat of Roy.

Hendrickson went the distance allowing five runs on six hits. The right-hander fanned three and walked two.

Vernon starter Matt Purnell (4-0), meanwhile, kept Record-Journal bats quiet. Purnell twirled a four-hit shutout on the strength of six strikeouts. He walked none.

“We played a really good game defensively and Matt Purnell was lights out,” said Vernon Orioles manager Jack Ceppetelli. “We had a really big hit by Zach Donahue. It’s easier to be playing from in front when we have Matt on the mound.”

The Expos (14-14 overall, 3-0 playoffs) strung together two singles by Sean Zapatka and Hector Gonzalez in the third and Isaiah Rivera added a single in the fourth, but didn’t threaten to score. The R-J’s John Walter legged out an infield hit in the sixth.

There was a scary development in the top of the third inning. Record-Journal catcher Dave Glueck took a foul ball off the neck while in his catching position. He stood up and, after taking a step, collapsed. He got up again, then collapsed again shortly after.

Glueck tried to get back up a third time, but players from both teams surrounded him and kept him down. Paramedics were called and first responders arrived shortly after. By then, Glueck was up and talking, but was taken off the field on a stretcher. The game was delayed for about 20 minutes.

Zapatka, the Expos first-year manager, said Glueck was on the mind of the team after watching him be rushed to the hospital.

“We didn’t discuss it in the dugout,” Zapatka said. “Initially, we had the attitude that we were going to play for him, but we just didn’t get anything going tonight.”

The loss ended the Expos perfect 3-0 start to the postseason. On their way to the finals, the Expos defeated the No. 4 Ulbrich Clippers (1-0), No. 1 Vernon Orioles (2-0) and No. 6 Middletown Outlaws (4-3).

In the win over the Outlaws, Justin Poirier’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh scoring Glueck was the difference. Charlie Hesseltine was the winning pitcher in a complete-game performance. Hesseltine also twirled a shutout in the playoff opener against Ulbrich.

It’s Hesseltine who will get the ball on short rest on Saturday. He asked for the ball.

“We’ve beaten them twice this year and we know we can beat them tomorrow. They threw their ace tonight and we are going to throw our ace tomorrow,” Zapatka said. “He’s going to pitch on short rest and he knows what he needs to do. He’s used to pitching on short rest. He knows that he’s got 10 months to rest until next season and he’s ready to go.”


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