2022 Navigators Walk-off A’s in 25+ Division of Connecticut North MSBL

Connecticut North MSBL, 25+ Division

Southington Navigators 8, Marlborough A’s 7

Editor’s note: The following is an exceptionally long recap of the championship game between the Navigators and the A’s.  However, I didn’t feel qualified to edit a story so passionately written by the Gator’s manager Shaun Wyman so I left just as I received it.  Thank you, Shaun, for your hard work!

Submitted by Shaun Wyman, Navigator’s manager

It’s not often you hear the phrase “Championship-clinching walk-off fielder’s choice”, but that’s exactly what happened to clinch the 25+ CNMSBL Championship for the Southington Navigators over the Marlborough A’s.

With one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 8th inning of the deciding game of the series, Southington’s Andrew Casey hit a two-hopper to Marlborough’s second basemen Garrett Bremer. Bremer flipped the ball to shortstop Pete Barrows who tried to turn the inning-ending double play and force this already epic battle to yet more extra innings. After playing 22 straight innings at shortstop, and in his 12th plate appearance of the day, Casey beat the throw to first as Charlie Reyes crossed the plate and the Navigators won their second CNMSBL championship in franchise history.

While the infield was playing in for Marlborough to try to cut down Reyes at the plate, the ball was seemingly hit hard enough to turn two and get out of the inning. Had the thrown gone home, it would have set up a dramatic at-bat as the Navigators would have had Kez Douglas, who already hit two home runs on the day, stepping into the box. However, Casey’s speed negated that outcome and the Navigators were already celebrating.

The third Sunday in August turned into a bit of a marathon for the Navigators and the A’s. The league typically plays the first two of the best-of-3 series on Saturday. Game 3, if needed, is played Sunday. However, due to player availability, the teams decided to play all three, if needed, on Sunday.

The day started with Marlborough’s perennial ace, Dan Livingston, on the mound up against Southington’s hottest pitcher, Mark Creamer. While Livingston has led the A’s to 6 of the last 10 division championships, Creamer came in on an extreme hot streak allowing only a 1.70 ERA in his last 40 innings. He was injured in Southington’s opening day game and didn’t return to the mound (effectively) until mid-June.

Creamer, uncharacteristically, allowed 3 runs (2 earned) in the top of the 1st on 3 singles, an error, and a walk. Southington answered with the bats off Livingston, starting with three straight hits (Anthony Munoz single, Casey double, and RJ Ingriselli double) and scoring two runs, to bring it to 3-2 Marlborough after one inning.

Both pitchers (and defenses) settled in and made it their job to strand runners.  Livingston only allowed 2 more hits, a walk, and two baserunners to reach on errors, none of them reached the plate. Creamer allowed 7 more hits, 3 more walks, and two more reached on an error, but the ‘Gators turned a DP and stranded the other 10 runners Marlborough had reached.

The Navigators still trailed 3-2 heading to the bottom of the 7th, but Livingston recorded his 7th and 8th strikeouts of the day and got John O’Connor to fly out to right to end it and give Marlborough the 1-0 advantage in the series.

The starting pitchers for game 2 were, well, the same. Creamer, who threw 124 pitches, took the mound for Southington, and Livingston (104 pitches) did the same. Southington started out hot with the bats again, with Casey and Douglas both singling to lead off the game. Ingriselli drove in the game’s first run with a fielder’s choice to make it 1-0. However, Livingston ends up striking out Bill Balcerzak (Southington’s RBI leader) with the bases loaded to end the threat. Creamer started out very efficient by getting the game’s first 5 outs on only 13 pitches and ended the 2nd with only 21 thrown.

The bottom of the 3rd, however, is when Marlborough looked like they were trying to put away the series. After Carson Mislick lined out to center fielder Munoz to lead off the inning, Chris Anselmo doubled for Marlborough and was followed by an Austin Patnaude single and a walk by Barrows to load up the bases. Taylor Kosakowski stepped in and grounded a ball to Southington’s third baseman, Joe White, who fired home for the second out of the inning. However, catcher Abi Polanco’s throw to first to try to end the inning got loose in right field and runners scored from first and second on the play. Marlborough right fielder Keith Echevarria then doubled onto left field to drive in another run and make it 3-1.

Southington could have packed it up and felt sorry for themselves, but they came roaring right back in the top of the 4th. Matt Arburr led off with a single, and then with one out, Balcerzak drove him in with a single to left field to make it 3-2. After a groundout, Evan Yacek doubled to left field to drive in Balcerzak and tie the game. Then with two outs, Munoz singles and Casey follows with another single to drive in Yacek. The next pitch is a wild one and Munoz scores from third and the Navigators took a 5-3 lead.

Creamer stayed in the game for his 11th inning of work (had thrown 10 innings in the ‘Gators semifinal win over the Newington Dodgers the week before) and he only got better. He retired 9 of the next 11 batters he faced, allowing only one single and one HBP, who was erased by a double play.

In the top of the 7th, the Navigators got some insurance after the leadoff hitter got out, Casey, Douglas, Ingriselli, and Arburr provided four consecutive singles to give Southington a 7-3 lead.

In the bottom of the 7th, Creamer (now over 200 pitches on the day) struck out the first two batters to record his first two strikeouts of game 2. He then hits Anselmo with a pitch and allows two straight singles to bring the tying run to the plate. Kosakowski hits a slow ground ball to White at 3b and he fires across the diamond to force a game 3!

To start game 3, Southington turns to Nelson Tirado (5-1, 4.20 ERA) to start on the hill. Marlborough went with…Dan Livingston! Now at 224 pitches on the day, Livingston has been known to throw both ends of doubleheaders for years. However, all three games of a triple header?

Tirado got the first three batters in order to get the ‘Gators right back in the dugout. Southington then took a 1-0 lead on a home run to deep right-center by Douglas. Marlborough tied the game in the 2nd, when the A’s scraped across an unearned run. They then increased the lead in the 3rd when Anselmo doubled, Patnaude singled, and Barrows was hit by a pitch. Two runs were scored on a Kosakowski double and another on an error, to give Marlborough a 4-1 lead. Tirado got the last two outs of the inning to escape further damage.

Douglas came up in the bottom of the 3rd and again went deep, this time a fence scraping line drive to center field to score Casey as well. Southington then commits one of its five errors of the game allowing Paul Sciano to lead off the 4th. He later scored on a single by, you guessed it, Livingston.

With one out in the 4th, O’Connor (6-3, 1 SV, 4.45 ERA) entered the game in relief. O’Connor was one of four Navigators on the team when they won their first division championship in 2014. He allows a single but then retires Patnaude and Barrows to keep the game at 5-3. In the top of the 5th, White leads off with a walk, Balcerzak singles, and then O’Connor comes through with an RBI double to close the lead to 1-run. Yacek then singles to score Balcerzak and tie the game.

We are now tied 5-5 heading to the top of the 5th of the deciding game of the Championship series, yet Marlborough is not fazed by Southington’s inability to be put away. Kosakowski and Echevarria both single to lead off the 5th, then after a Bremer strikeout, Dan Milardo singles to give Marlborough yet another lead. Sciano lines out and Mislick pops out to minimize the damage.

Douglas comes up again and doubles to lead off the bottom of the 5th. Ingriselli walks and Arburr singles to score Douglas and tie it up yet again. Balcerzak reaches on an error with one out and O’Connor grounds into a fielder’s choice forcing Ingriselli at home and preventing the go-ahead run from scoring. However, Yacek then drives in yet another run with a bases-loaded walk on a 3-1 pitch to score Arburr. Ben Burnett strikes out swinging to end the thread, but the Navigators now have the lead and only 6 outs left to get.

In the top of the 6th. Livingston got his run right back. He singled to lead off the inning and then advanced to second on an error. Anselmo walked and then Patnaude singled to load up the bases with no outs. O’Connor did his best magic trick and got Barrows out on a sac fly that tied the game, but then got a groundball to second base and Casey turned it to end the thread and keep the game tied at 7.

The Navigators only got one batter to reach in the 6th, on a Douglas HBP. However, the Navigators only allowed one base runner in the top of the 7th, a walk, but quickly escaped.

The bottom of the 7th was all lined up for Southington to walk it off. Coming up to the plate were Arburr (3 HR), White, and Balcerzak (4 HR).  Livingston finally makes way for the bullpen after 320 pitches and in comes Kosakowski to try to keep the A’s alive. He starts by getting Arburr to strike out for the ONLY time this season! He then gets White looking, and then Balcerzak flies out to right.

On to extras in the championship series we go. O’Connor, still in for the Navigators, gets Mislick to fly out to center, walks Livingston, and then gets Anselmo to fly out to left. He then gets Patnaude to end the inning on a groundball to Casey at short.

And now we enter the bottom of the 8th, which was an adventure. O’Connor singles to lead off the inning and immediately exits for pinch-runner Reyes. Yacek, who had been clutch all day long, singled to left field to get the championship-winning run to second base. Ben Burnett then strikes out looking on a 2-2 count to bring up manager Shaun Wyman.

Wyman had struck out in a pinch-hit appearance a few innings earlier, but now he was in a position to win the game for the team he manages. He takes an 0-1 pitch and lines it on a few hops to the right fielder Echevarria. The crowd of family and friends who are now on their 7th hour of watching baseball starts celebrating, but it turns out it was hit too hard to test Echevarria’s arm, as he already had multiple outfield assists on the day. Now, the bases are loaded with 1-out for Casey. He steps up to the plate having gone 4 for 7 in the first two games, and 1 for 4 in game 3.

The infield steps on the grass to try to cut down the run at home, which made it even more probably for Casey’s bat to produce yet another line drive. Instead, he took Kosakowski’s 1-0 pitch and hit that two-hopper to second, and most importantly absolutely flew down the line to beat the throw and send the Gators and their fans into a championship celebration frenzy.  

Here is the video of their final out and celebration: