In search of its eighth consecutive league win, New England Frozen Lemonade/Shields Post 43 ran into some trouble on Sunday night in Lincoln. NEFL watched a 2-0 lead evaporate in the fifth inning against Upper Deck Post 86/14. In the sixth, starter Kyle Fitzsimmons was chased after issuing a one-out walk.
Things weren’t looking great.
But as usual, NEFL found a way.
Reliever Andrew Bracken induced a 5-4-3 double play to end the sixth, and a fired-up NEFL squad put up a run in the top of the seventh to take a one-run lead. Bracken then worked out of trouble in the bottom half to seal a 3-2 victory.
NEFL improved to a league-best 14-1.
“Good win tonight,” said NEFL manager Dave McGuirl. “We were short-handed, and that’s a good team over there. I’m happy.”
With more than two-thirds of the league season complete, NEFL has still lost just one game, a one-run loss to defending state champ Gershkoff Auto Body/Auburn Post 20 on June 19. Since then, NEFL has kept winning, both in-state and out-of-state. In addition to its league victories, NEFL won a tournament in Keene, N.H., last week.
“We’re rolling along, to a point where I’m trying to keep them from getting over-confident,” McGuirl said.
The good news on that front is that there’s no shortage of strong teams keeping NEFL on its toes.
Upper Deck fit the bill.
The team came into Sunday’s game with a 6-3 record, and NEFL, which had scored 37 runs in its last four games, managed just two in the early going. Branden Hoxsie knocked in both with a single to left in the third inning.
The two runs looked like they would be enough for Fitzsimmons, who cruised through the first four innings. But in the fifth, an error by Zach Blanchard at shortstop opened the door, and Upper Deck stepped through. Matt Lazarus smacked an RBI double to cut the lead in half and Christian Spader followed with a single to score Lazarus with the tying run.
NEFL then quickly went down in order in the top of the sixth, and Upper Deck picked up more steam when Fitzsimmons – whose pitch count was inching over 100 – walked a batter with one out. McGuirl went to the bullpen and brought on Bracken.
Very quickly, NEFL was back in business.
Bracken got Matt Billington to hit a hard ground ball to third. Teddy Dwyer handled it and fired a throw to second, where Nick McGuirl turned it and made a perfect throw to Shawn Clayton at first for the inning-ending double play.
It seemed to be a spark.
“They were fired up after that,” Dave McGuirl said. “Sometimes, great defense can get you going.”
And NEFL didn’t waste the momentum.
Nick McGuirl drew a walk to start the seventh and Blanchard roped a single through the left side. After a pop-out, Dwyer walked to load the bases with one out.
Upper Deck got what it wanted when Hoxsie hit a sharp ground ball to first, leading to a force-out at home, but catcher Chase Sullivan’s throw back to first was wild and bounced into right field. That allowed Blanchard to score the go-ahead run.
NEFL wasn’t out of the woods yet, though. An error put the leadoff man on for Upper Deck. Bracken responded by getting a fly-out and a strikeout, but Lazarus kept Upper Deck alive with a chopper that took a wild hop over McGuirl’s head at second for a base hit.
Bracken then fell behind Spader 3-0, but worked his way back and induced a ground ball up the middle. McGuirl handled it and stepped on second for the final out.
“Andrew Bracken did a great job coming back from 3-0 right there,” Dave McGuirl said. “He doesn’t throw overly hard but if you ever play catch with him, nothing’s straight. Everything tails and moves. He’s not easy to hit. Everybody hits ground balls.”
Though he didn’t factor in the decision, Fitzsimmons was also impressive on the mound.
“He pitched great,” McGuirl said. “That was his best start of the year. He didn’t pitch in the spring, so the first couple of starts are like spring training. We worked in the pen today on a few things and he was on. He threw well.”
NEFL will now head to Glens Falls, N.Y., for the Coopers Cave Tournament, one of the top legion events in the region. The tourney begins Tuesday.
NEFL will face stiff competition in pool play but welcomes the challenge.
“The five teams we play in Saratoga are all like 15 over .500,” McGuirl said. “We’re going to playing five really good teams in four days. It’s going to be a grind, but it’ll be good.”