In a tense affair more suited to baseball’s bygone dead-ball era, the Toll Gate Titans mounted a spirited comeback that came up just short in a 3-2 walk-off loss to the Pilgrim Patriots in eight innings.
The Titans came into Thursday’s dreary afternoon with their backs against the wall; sporting only four wins on the season, Toll Gate needed a win and losses by several teams around the state in order to qualify for the postseason. And for the first few innings, the Titans played like they knew the stakes, as starter Tim Warner, aided by a spectacular diving catch by center-fielder Elvis Pimentel and overall solid team defense, blitzed through the Pilgrim lineup, requiring only seventeen pitches through two innings.
Unfortunately for the Titans, though, they were faced with the daunting task of hitting right-hander Elijah Dressel, who came into the game sporting a 1.01 ERA. Though Dressel struggled in the early innings, continually going deep into counts, he eventually settled in, relying mainly on a slider-curveball combination to baffle the Titans’ lineup.
“It may appear to people that Elijah uses secondary stuff a lot, but that’s his arsenal,” said Pilgrim head coach Scott Bailey. “His slider is his best pitch. That’s the way he pitches, and it works for him.”
On a day in which neither team was able to register an extra-base hit, it was obvious that the game would be decided on the mound more than in the batter’s box. And through the first few innings of play, both starters dazzled, keeping the score knotted at zero.
Warner was the first pitcher to blink when he allowed a walk and committed an error, leading to Pilgrim designated hitter Ryan Morris knocking in center-fielder Chris Duchesneau with a sacrifice fly.
Morris’s presence in the lineup was actually one of the key subplots of the game; the tall lefty had been one of the top pitchers in the state before labrum surgery derailed his dominance on the mound. However, over the past few weeks he has appeared in some games as a pitcher, making him a key X-factor heading into the playoffs. On Thursday, however, Morris helped his team with the bat, knocking in Pilgrim’s only two runs through the first seven innings.
“It feels good to be out there. I was a pretty good hitter in AAU, and I’m just glad I can help the team win,” said Morris in regards to his role as the team’s DH on Thursday.
Morris later added a second RBI to his resume, and with a 2-0 lead and Dressel on the hill, things looked bleak for Toll Gate. However, going into the seventh inning having registered more than ninety pitches, Dressel gave up an infield single and a walk, leading to a second and third situation with two outs in the inning. Toll Gate took advantage in dramatic fashion, scoring two runs on a bases loaded, two-run single by Alex Lefebvre to extend the game into extra innings and keep the Titans’ season alive.
Yet, Toll Gate was unable to ride the momentum, as it failed to register a hit in the extra frame. Meanwhile, on the other side, Pilgrim took no time in re-asserting its dominance; three batters into the home half of the eighth inning, the bases were loaded, leaving first baseman Bryant Palermo the pleasure of knocking in second baseman Brandon Paiva for a walk-off win off of a soft liner over the head of the shortstop.
The loss didn’t actually eliminate Toll Gate from the postseason, as it wouldn’t have qualified even with a win thanks to the results of a few other games around the state.
“We battled most games this year, and that’s all we can really ask for,” said Toll Gate head coach Nick Durand.
On the other side of the diamond, Pilgrim’s win gave it some momentum headed into the playoffs, where its pitching – especially if Morris is healthy – could carry them on a deep run. Morris was expected to pitch in an intra-squad game on Sunday.
“We have great pitching and good defense, we just need to get the sticks going and we could make some noise,” Bailey said.
Pilgrim will open the playoffs on Wednesday at La Salle at 4 p.m. The Patriots are part of a four-team, double-elimination regional tournament made up themselves, La Salle, Portsmouth and Johnston.
Win or lose, Pilgrim will play again Friday at 4 p.m.