AMERICAN LEGION: Vumback, Meriden pull out pitchers’ duel in Fairfield, earn home date on Tuesday

FAIRFIELD — First there were the matching no-hitters. That went on deep into the fifth inning.

Then there were the matching goose eggs. That went on straight through the sixth.

Eventually, somebody was going to score in Monday’s Meriden-Fairfield matchup in the opening round of the American Legion regional qualifying tournament at Fairfield’s Kiwanis Field.

That someone was Meriden.

Ethan Brazel singled and scored on a fielder’s choice in the top of the seventh and right-hander John Vumback took care of the rest, blanking the No.4 seed on four hits in a 1-0 victory that advances fifth-seeded Post 45 to Tuesday’s second round of the tournament that decides who represents Connecticut in the New England Regional.

“We came in as a team and we finished as a team and gave everything we had to give,” said Brazel. “We didn’t drive all the way down here for nothing.”

No need to drive on Tuesday. Meriden’s second-round game will be at home at Legion Field at 5:45 p.m., as No. 8 Greenwich knocked off top-seeded Waterford 3-1 on Monday. 

In the Meriden-Fairfield game, Vumback, the Maloney bulldog on his way to UConn-Avery Point, out-dueled Denison University freshman C.J. Monteiro. A left-hander, Monteiro also allowed only four hits.

Two of them, however, came in the top of the seventh and set up the lone run of the game.

Brazel and Evan Cordero led off with singles and were advanced into scoring position on a beauty of a bunt by Peyton Thiel.

Up stepped Teddy Haniewski. The Meriden catcher hit a ball sharply into the hole between short and third. Fairfield shortstop Sean McAdams made an excellent diving stop and was able to cut down Cordero trying to advance to third.

In the meantime, Brazel crossed the plate unopposed with the go-ahead run.

Fairfield did get the tying run aboard in the bottom of the seventh when McAdams singled to center with one out.

But, as he had been all game, Vumback was unfazed. He got Blake Benway to fly to Brazel in left for out No. 2, then caught Nick Hios looking at strike three to end it.

“We knew it was going to be a pitchers’ duel from the start, but we tacked on the run at the end when it mattered,” Vumback said. “We knew whoever would get the first run would win, and we held them off and won.”

Fairfield came close several times to scoring that first run. Twice, Fairfield put two runners aboard. Poise from Vumback and clutch defense from his fielders prevented that from happening.

In the opening frame, Vumback hit the first batter he faced and the next batter hit a ground ball that resulted in a bad throw to second base.

Faced with runners at first and second and nobody out, Vumback whiffed the next two batters before Haniewski picked the trailing runner off first base to end the inning.

In the sixth, singles by Charles Mulhall and Joe D’Elia, sandwiched around a pop out, put Fairfield runners at first and second with one out.

The next batter, Jack Corcoran, lofted a ball to right field that Max Giacco tracked down in foul territory.

Mulhall tried tagging to third on the play. Giacco, who had also made a fine running catch in the third inning, hustled the ball back into the infield. Mulhall got hung up in a rundown and Cordero ultimately applied the tag to complete a double play.

Both teams were hitless through four. In the home half of the fifth, Benway, a catcher at Emerson College, broke up Vumback’s half of the no-hitter with a one-out double off the right-field wall.

It was a “hold your breath” moment for Meriden.

“I was just happy that ball didn’t leave,” Vumback said. “I thought it was gone and that we’d have to battle back, but it stayed in and we capitalized and held them.”

In the wake of Benway’s wall-banger, Vumback induced a fly ball to Brazel in shallow left and then got a fine play on a tough hop by Cordero at third base to end the inning.

Meriden busted up Monteiro’s half of the no-hitter in the top of the sixth with a two-out single down the left field line by shortstop Javon Malone.

Then Post 45 made a bid to bust up the shutout. Evan Avery followed Malone with a double down the left field line. There was a play at third, but Malone slid in safely.

Andrew McCarty drew a walk to load the bases. Monteiro bore down and got Dylan Gay to fly out to center to end the threat.

Turns out, it was only a temporary escape.

“Hell of game,” exclaimed Meriden head coach Doug Wedge. “Great defensive game and an excellent game by both pitchers. We ended up coming through in the end, but it was a really good, tight ballgame.”

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