WESTFIELD, Massachusetts (August 5) – “In a year that has been so improbable...the impossible has happened.”
The legendary Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully used those words to describe Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run in the first game of the 1988 World Series. Over a quarter-century later, they fit another baseball game.
In his first at-bat since an injury suffered two weeks prior, Jackson Hornung’s three-run double in the bottom of the ninth tied the game as the Westfield Starfires walked off against the New Britain Bees, 7-6, on the final day of the regular season, clinching the franchise’s first Futures Collegiate Baseball League Playoff berth in the team’s four-year history.
Tied 3-3 heading into the ninth, the Bees put two men on via walks before Jeff Nichol hit a three-run shot to left to give New Britain a 6-3 lead; Zach Nichols, who surrendered the home run, had not previously allowed an earned run all season. It left the Starfires stunned, and with just three outs left to save their season.
Brian Norsen led off the home half with a walk, and Patrick D’Amico followed with a two-strike liner to center. Nathan Lincoln likewise fell behind 0-2 before driving the ball through the right side, loading the bases. It was there that manager Kyle Dembrowski elected to play his trump card and send Hornung to the dish.
After taking a ball and a strike, Hornung took a swing, and he connected. The ball sailed to the fence in right-center on one hop, and all three runners came home. Hornung himself jogged into second, where he was ultimately lifted for pinch-runner Jake Pisano.
Two batters later, Brendan Jones bounced a 3-2 pitch to second that was misplayed, and Pisano tagged home plate, sending the Starfires into a frenzy with the win.
“It feels awesome, just to see the team and everyone around us going absolutely crazy is awesome. I couldn’t have pictured it any better,” Hornung said. “[Dembrowski] gave me the shot and I just took advantage of it, and it worked out.”
Westfield started with an unearned run in the first, as Jones reached on a bad throw from third and scored on a grounder by Jackson Haker that was dropped at home. In the second, the team added another as Lincoln singled to right, stole second, took third on a Jones hit, and came home on a wild pitch.
New Britain strung together three singles to get on the board in the third, but three straight strikeouts by Edwin Almanzar – who had six in his three frames of work – shut down the rally, and in the fourth, Lincoln walked and ultimately scored on an error to extend the lead to 3-1. However, the Bees netted two in the seventh to tie the game themselves on back-to-back errors, setting up the ninth-inning magic.
With the win secured, the Starfires turn their attention to the Vermont Lake Monsters. The best-of-3 FCBL Semifinal Series will begin on Monday, August 8 at Centennial Field in Burlington, Vermont.
“Today just showed the fact that we are never out of any game, we have a deep roster, and a bunch of guys that are there for each other,” Dembrowski said after the game, adding that the mindset for the postseason series with the league’s top team will be to “take it to them, put together good at bats, play team defense, and above all stay loose and enjoy the time we do have left with each other.”
Hornung echoed his manager, saying the team has to “go in not thinking anyone is better than us, just try to lay it down and beat everyone…we are going to take this win into tomorrow and hopefully get the win.”
The second game of the three-game series will be at Bullens Field on Tuesday, August 9 at 6:30 p.m. Team owner Chris Thompson knew how much this opportunity meant for the franchise, but also the city.
“Year four is ‘BullensMagic,’” Thompson said after the win. “We’ve talked about it since the start when Donnie [Moorhouse] and I put this team together back in 2019. It was like baseball and Westfield come together and there is this expectation of winning, so I think now we can kind of be up on a pedestal with folks, franchises, and teams that have won on this field,” referencing the storied history of baseball in the Whip City.
Tickets for the first home playoff game in franchise history are available online now at https://ci.ovationtix.com/36043/production/1135175?performanceId=11140808 and remain at $10, the same price as during the regular season.
For the latest on the team, be sure to follow the Starfires on Twitter and Instagram @starfiresbb, and visit us on the web at westfieldstarfires.com.