By Greg Sukiennik
BRISTOL, CONN. >> Brattleboro Post 5 pitcher Kassidi Ramirez scattered six hits and struck out eight, allowing just two runs over nine innings. It was a strong effort — the kind that, on most days, is more than enough to earn a win.
Thursday afternoon at the American Legion Northeast Regional was definitely not most days for Post 5.
In fact, it was one of those days. The kind where you're left shaking your head and pulling out your hair.
An early spate of Brattleboro fielding errors — four in the first two innings — led to a pair of unearned runs for Bristol Post 2. That was all opposing starter Brad Burney needed, as the left-hander escaped a bases-loaded jam with three strikeouts and led Bristol to a 2-1 win that eliminated Post 5 from the double-elimination tournament at Muzzy Field.
Burney helped end Brattleboro's first state title season since 1999, holding Post 5 hitless for six innings and striking out 13.
Ramirez, who went 2 for 4 at the plate and scored his team's only run, kept Post 5 in the game with his effort on the mound. He allowed no earned runs, retired the side in order four times and held Bristol off the scoreboard for seven innings. After the first two innings, only six Bristol batters reached base, and none advanced past second.
"I thought Ramirez pitched just as well as (Burney)," manager Eric Libardoni said. "Those (first) two innings we played zero defense behind him, gave up two runs and we should have been out of the inning giving up no runs.
"(Bristol) did nothing on their own offensively. (Ramirez) shut them down," he added. "But we handed them runs and they didn't do that for us because we struck out too much."
Burney retired the side in order the first four innings and struck out the side in the fourth. But by the seventh, it appeared he might be running out of fuel. Ramirez led off the seventh by breaking up Burney's no-hit bid with a clean single, and Leif Bigelow followed with a single down the third-base line.
Next up was Thomas Carroll, and with the Bristol infield pulled in at the corners, he surprised the defense with a slash bunt. Bristol's third baseman was out of position, and when Burney fielded the bunt, there was no one at third to take the throw. His throw to first pulled the first baseman off the bag, and the bases were loaded with no outs.
But that's when Burney dug down, striking out Chayse Cunniff, pinch-hitter Matthew Dulmaine and pinch-hitter Matthew Boggio in order to end the threat.
Later, Libardoni said he was confident in the hitters he had at the plate, and decided against trying to manufacture a run.
"We were trying to play for two runs there. It's not like we were smacking him around and were going to get a great chance again," he said.
Brattleboro did mount another rally in the ninth, as Ramirez helped his own cause by doubling to deep left to lead off the inning.
Bigelow was up next, and he hit a sharp ground ball that Bristol shortstop Ben Mazzone fielded and nearly threw into right field. But first baseman Troy Micale made the defensive play of the game, spearing the throw out of the air and stomping his foot on the bag to beat Bigelow charging up the line.
"If they throw that ball away at first, it's a different game," Libardoni said.
Burney then got Carroll to pop up before Cunniff singled to right, scoring Ramirez. But with two out, Dulmaine flied to left, ending the game and Brattleboro's season.
"We certainly didn't do ourselves any favors. We swung at a lot of bad pitches up high and took a lot of strikes," manager Eric Libardoni said. "But (Burney) obviously did a good job."
Wednesday night, Bristol, appearing in the eight-team field as the host team, looked out of its depth in an error-strewn 10-7 loss to Cumberland, R.I. Libardoni took notice, and before the game he told his players to put the ball in play as much as possible and test Bristol's defense.
But it was Brattleboro's defense that faltered first.
In the top of the first, Mazzone reached and took second on an errant throw from Bigelow at shortstop, then scored on another throwing error charged to Bigelow to put Bristol on the board.
Bristol added another unearned run in the second, as Amdrew Owsianko reached on an error by Christopher Hall at third, advanced to third on a passed ball and scored on Richard Lemke's grounder to short.
"We played really good defense in the state tournament and that's why we won," Libardoni said. "Today we didn't play defense and that's why we lost."
Much of the Brattleboro roster is young, and the future for a program that won its first state title since 1999 is bright if his players learn from the experience, Libardoni said.
"Hopefully they'll get better for next year and improve. I'm proud of them," he said.