SPRINGFIELD, Massachusetts (July 30, 2023) – When the final out was recorded, the scoreboard at the Walker Memorial Grandstand read 11-7 in favor of the Westfield Starfires over the Pittsfield Suns.
Yet the real winner was the Pioneer Valley itself, as the historic Forest Park field saw a glimpse of its future thanks to the partnership between the Starfires, MGM Springfield, the City of Springfield, and a host of local businesses who made an incredible event possible ahead of planned renovations to the facility through an upcoming federal grant.
The announced crowd of 1673 witnessed the teams trade big innings, with the Starfires ultimately prevailing to improve to 27-27 on the campaign.
It was the Suns that struck first, as Matt Lussier reached on a leadoff walk. After advancing to second on a groundout, he took off for third, and the throw down to the bag went awry, allowing him to scamper home.
Things went further south in the second. Another leadoff walk was followed by a single, although Luke Masiuk threw out Spencer Berson trying to go first-to-third. However, Matt Thorsen walked, and Sean McGee hammered the first pitch he saw over the left field fence, putting the Suns ahead 4-0.
The Starfires drew back some momentum at the finish of the half-inning, as J.D. Jones completed a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play with a perfect shot to put Lussier out after Rob Taylor swung through a pitch for strike three.
Westfield State University’s Dan Burnett led off the home half with a double, and Isaiah Pinkney followed with a rocket shot down the third base line that got through the fielder and allowed Burnett to score. The ball was bobbled in left, allowing Pinkney to take second. That was costly twice over, as Michael Breen hit a grounder to second that was misplayed, allowing Pinkney to score to cut the deficit to 4-2.
In the third, Masiuk paired a big hit with his defensive gem, blasting a 3-1 pitch over the left-field fence to make it a 4-3 game. One inning later, Westfield flipped the lead in its favor. Pinkney was hit by a pitch, and the defense shifted to the left against Breen, who drove the ball through the vacated hole on the right side of the infield. Both advanced on a passed ball, and Kiernan Caffrey came to the dish. The FCBL All-Star from American International College came through, scorching a single to left that brough both runners home and made the score 5-4 Starfires.
The bats went quiet for a brief period, but in the sixth, Westfield came alive again. Walks by Jack Kent and Nick Serce bookended a hard-hit single off of first base by Caffrey to load the bases. Jones came to the plate and, on a check-swing, bounced the ball between the pitcher and the third baseman, leaving no play for the defense and driving in Kent. Masiuk followed with a four-pitch RBI walk that forced Caffrey home.
The Suns had no intention of going without a fight, and Lussier doubled with one out before Taylor lifted a two-run shot to left in an eight-pitch at-bat in the seventh. The Suns then tied the game in the eighth on a sacrifice fly by Matt Thorsen.
With the pressure now on the home team, the Starfires delivered. Serce lined a 1-1 pitch to the base of the wall in right, and Jones singled to give Westfield two on. Masiuk then wired a double over third base and into left before Burnett had the biggest hit of all, a towering home run to deep right center that put the game away.
Joe Espinola worked around a one-out walk to shut the door in the ninth, although with a four-run lead, it was not a save situation. Troy Donahue threw 4.1 strong frames, allowing two runs on five hits with three strikeouts, and Jake Jachym was ultimately the winner, with one run allowed on a walk and a hit batter in 1.2 innings.
Westfield remains in the hunt for the fourth and final FCBL Playoff spot, and faces the team it is chasing, the New Britain Bees, at the Richards Jewelers Diamond at Billy Bullens Field on Tuesday, August 1 at 6:30 p.m.