By Bryant Carpenter
MERIDEN — As it was at the beginning, so it was at the end. And that bodes well for the Record-Journal Expos.
The Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League regular season closed out Friday night with a triple-header at Ceppa Field. Any games left on the docket were finished up under the lights of Gale Avenue.
The Expos, playing in the opener, pinned a 9-2 decision on Rainbow Graphics, the same team they defeated on opening night and the team they’ll open against in the playoffs.
The Meriden squad rode that first win over Rainbow Graphics to a 5-1 start on the season. Friday’s triumph snapped a 1-4 tailspin in the second half.
Add it up and the Expos are 7-5 heading into the league’s annual double-elimination tournament, which opens Sunday. They hold the No. 2 seed behind the pennant-winning South Windsor Phillies.
The Vernon Orioles and East Hartford Jets also went 7-5. The Expos swept the Orioles and split with the Jets during the regular season, while the Orioles swept the Jets. Meriden snagged the No. 2 seed with a better run differential (plus-11).
Sunday’s opener against Rainbow Graphics is 5:30 p.m. at Glastonbury’s Riverfront Park.
Looking forward to it,” said Expos pitcher-manager Charlie Hesseltine said of the tournament, which is likely to feature some games at Ceppa Field.
Can the Expos win it all?
“Oh, yeah, whole-heartedly,” said the veteran left-hander. “If we come out and play our game every game for the next week during the playoffs, I think we have a good chance.”
The Expos will be looking for atonement. Last year, after finishing first in the regular season, they were missing several starters and went 0-2 in the tournament.
This year, all hands are on deck, with the exception of center fielder Jonny Walter, who broke his thumb recently sliding into second base.
Pitching depth is lined up behind Hesseltine and right-hander A.J. Hendrickson. Nick Foell of Milford, brandishing a wily knuckle-curve, kept Rainbow Graphics well off-balance on Friday night.
The Expos also have Jack Rich, Cam Fahey and Mike Bonauito available to throw.
“This year, we’re pretty set with pitching,” said Hesseltine.
All around, the Expos will be looking to recapture the mojo they enjoyed in the first half of the season, a two-week stretch in early July that included an epic 11-10 win over the East Hartford Jets. The Expos twice erased two-run deficits in extra innings before walking it off in the 14th.
Meriden went on to sweep a home-away set with the Vernon Orioles, the league’s perennial tournament king.
Then came an 8-2 loss to Ulbrich Steel on July 24, a setback at Ceppa that triggered a three-game slide.
The Expos snapped it with a 6-5 win over the Phillies at Ceppa last Friday, but that was followed by a 9-4 loss to People’s Bank on Monday night at Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford, which helped the Phillies wrap up the pennant.
“We started off on the right foot; we kind of fell flat for three games in a row a couple weeks ago,” Hesseltine said. “That shows in our record, but I still believe in the team.”
There’s no reason not to. The Expos were back in form Friday against Rainbow Graphics, finishing off a July 23 game they had been leading 6-1 when rain halted matters in the fourth inning.
Meriden had built its lead that night with a five-run third inning. It featured a two-run triple by Jason Sullivan and a solo home run by Mike Guilino.
When play resumed Friday, the Expos promptly pushed the lead to 8-1. Hector Gonzalez and Sullivan, aboard with singles, both scored when Jack Rich grounded out to first base.
Gonzalez came in from third. Sullivan came all the way around from second when the throw to the plate to get Gonzalez instead got away from the catcher.
One inning later, Will Kszywanos tomahawked an RBI double down the right field line. It scored Joe Gulino, who had singled and was running on the pitch.
And now another run is in the offing. The Expos will look to make it a deep one.