WESTFIELD, Massachusetts (July 29, 2022) – Facing a must-win game against the top team in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, the Westfield Starfires used a five-run fourth inning to defeat the Vermont Lake Monsters 9-7 on Friday, July 29.
The win improves Westfield to 26-29 on the season; the team remains in possession of the final playoff spot in the FCBL Championship.
Vermont jumped out to an early lead as Tommy Martin doubled into the right field gap on the second pitch of the game and came home on a base hit through the right side by Tyler Favretto. Justin Sinibaldi induced a double play against the next batter, but Brian Schaub reached on a throwing error and scored on a Jimmy Evans single. Evans was subsequently picked off of first to end the inning.
In the second, the Starfires tied the game. Brian Norsen singled, as did Chad Lavelle. Lavelle swiped second base, and both came home as Nathan Lincoln doubled to center to bring the score to 2-2.
The Lake Monsters responded quickly. With two outs in the third, an single and an error put two on, and an infield hit loaded the bases. Evans doubled to left, scoring Favretto and Gio Cueto and giving Vermont a new two-run lead. The Starfires cut that back to one with a Brendan Jones hit to left to lead off the bottom of the inning, advancing on a Ryan Molinari single before scoring on a fly ball to left by Norsen.
The wheels came off for Vermont in the fourth. The Lake Monsters loaded the bases with one out, and thought they had a run on a wild pitch, but it was called back as the umpire ruled that Favretto had made contact with the ball; on his next swing, he hit into an inning-ending double play.
Lavelle then led off the home half with a bloop single that just avoided a diving Charles Crawford at second. Lincoln then hit a grounder to the mound that Tanner Wolpert tried to go to second with, only to not get anyone as no one was covering the base. Cooper Johnson then drove a single to center, scoring Lavelle and tying the game.
With Lincoln at third and Johnson at first, Wolpert sent a wild pitch to the backstop, giving the Starfires the lead. Johnson, now at second, took off for third on the next pitch, and the throw sailed into left, allowing him to score. Ryan Lavelle ultimately walked, and then took two bases as a failed pickoff sailed into right field. Jones walked, giving Westfield first and third. Jones then took off for second, and the throw to the base had him beat, but Cam Conley instead elected to throw back to third to try to get the elder Lavelle, and his throw went wide, allowing another run to come home. Finally, on a long fly ball to center by Ryan Molinari, Jones tagged and scored from second, a rare two-base sacrifice fly that left the Starfires up 8-4, despite protests from the Vermont side that Jones had left early.
In the fifth, Gunnar Johnson smacked a double to center field to lead off, and his brother drove him in two batters later to give Westfield a 9-4 lead.
“The past couple of weeks, I’ve been hitting the ball hard but the hits haven’t been dropping. You have to just keep working hard and staying the course, and finally some hits dropped,” Cooper Johnson said. “It felt really good to…contribute to the team’s success,” he added.
Vermont battled, pushing two unearned across in the sixth and loading the bases in the ninth; Conley walked with the bases loaded to force Martin home and put the tying run at second, but Zach Nichols induced Connor Bowman to fly out to right to end the game.
Sinibaldi went 5.2 innings in the win, surrendering 10 hits and six runs, though just one was earned. He struck out tthree in the effort. Daniel Manente threw three brilliant innings of relief, allowing a run on a walk and a hit batter but no hits and three strikeouts; Nichols allowed a hit and a walk but earned the save.
Westfield’s win kept the team even with the Norwich Sea Unicorns, who defeated the Brockton Rox 4-0 at Dodd Stadium in Norwich, Connecticut; Westfield won the season series with Norwich 4-3 and holds the tiebreaker for the final playoff spot should the teams still be even after the eight remaining games.
The Starfires will battle Vermont for the final time in the regular season on Saturday, July 30 at 6:30 p.m. at Bullens Field.
“With the talent we have on this team, we can compete with anyone in this league,” Johnson noted. “If we do our job, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be in the playoffs.”
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.