AMERICAN LEGION: Newington sends Meriden packing in second round

MERIDEN — The summer baseball season came to an end for the Meriden Post 45 American Legion baseball team Wednesday night when it fell to Newington 3-2 in the second round of the state tournament.

“I love our team,” Meriden skipper Mark Kszywanos said. “I’d compete against any team in the state and I know they can compete against any team in the state. We just ran into a tough situation today where we didn’t make adjustments at the plate.”

It was an old-fashioned pitchers’ duel of polar opposites. Meriden threw Max Giacco, a hard-tossing right hander. Giacco’s counterpart was Newington’s Jonathan Pyne, a soft-throwing southpaw who, Kszywanos said, had Meriden off-balance all game.

Pyne mixed and matched his classic 12-6 curveball with his slower-than-most fastball to keep the Meriden lineup guessing. In six innings of work, Pyne needed 99 pitches to strike out six batters, scatter eight hits and allow a pair of walks. 

Between his natural abilities and Meriden’s propensity to pull the ball, Pyne lived on the outside corner of the plate. The Meriden hitters were stubborn, according to their coach.

“You have to make adjustments and you have to shoot the ball to right field,” Kszywanos said. 

Meriden’s lone opposite-field hit of the evening came from Dylan Gay in the bottom of the sixth. It was too little too late, however, as Gay’s pinch-runner, Andrew Romano, was stranded at third by inning’s end with Meriden trailing 3-2.

Newington jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning. An error and a single put runners in scoring position before Meriden could blink. 

“The energy totally shifted their way,” Kszywanos said. “We were a little flat today.”

A pair of productive ground ball outs plated each runner, but that would be all Meriden would allow until the top of the sixth.

“Max pitched a helluva game,” Kszywanos said of his starting pitcher, who struck out a pair, allowed just four hits and gave up one free pass on 96 pitches. “He deserves better today.”

Meriden did pull even in the bottom of the fifth, but Newington promptly plated what proved to be the winning run in the top of the sixth.

Pyne led off with a single and stole second. Giacco got a couple of fly balls to center field as he attempted to keep the score at 2-2.

The next batter, Domenick Bukowski, pulled a 2-1 offering to third. A low throw allowed Bukowski to reach safely and Pyne to score the go ahead run.

“No game is won or lost on one play,” Kszywanos said. “You gotta play seven innings of hard baseball.”

Meriden mustered up a second-and-third situation with two outs in the bottom half of the frame, but that last 90 feet felt like 100 miles for a team that struggled to string hits together most of the evening. A ground ball to third ended the sixth before Newington’s Alex Bugnacki induced three ground balls in the seventh to close out the game.

“But we shouldn’t be in this spot,” Kszywanos said.  “Need to come out, need to make the in-game adjustments and be better as a team. Period.”

Meriden had the fight to pull it out. That was evident in the fifth inning.

After Meriden ran itself out of a first-and-third opportunity with one out in the fourth inning, the No. 8 and 9 hitters, Kyle Parmelee and Ted Haniewski, lined a pair of singles to open the fifth.

Giacco laid down a textbook sacrifice bunt to set up Javon Malone’s two-run double to tie the game.

“We have them right where we want them,” Kszywanos said after his squad evened the score. “We’re at our ballpark; we’re the home team. We have an opportunity to do something.”

It just wasn’t Meriden’s day. The final opportunity in the sixth was squashed by a beautiful pick by Newington first baseman Sean Hurley to get Haniewski by half a step.

“Adjustments,” Kszywanos said. “Baseball is a game of adjustments. The team that does them, and does them successfully, usually wins.”

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