MANSFIELD Conn. – Bases loaded. Two outs.
Trinity’s Jeremiah Bayer, the New England Pitcher of the Year, stared in at the plate. Looking back was Eastern senior Shawn Gilblair, the New England hitter of the year, up in the top of the ninth with his team trailing by one.
But in a matchup of the best players of the two top teams in the Division 3 New England regional, it was Bayer who won out, getting Gilblair to loft a short popup to shortstop to end the game and send the Bantams to the World Series in Grand Chute Wis. where they will look to defend their 2008 title.
“That was the most pressure I think I’ve ever felt on the mound,” said Bayer (12-0), who had thrown 119 pitches in a complete game shutout against Southern Maine Friday morning.
He threw 66 pitches over the final four and a third innings to slam the door on Eastern’s season.
“I was going on adrenaline,” he said. “To be honest, I felt great but I thnk it was because I was so into the game I didn’t really know what I was feeling.”
But none was more important then his final one to Gilblair.
“I actually said ‘Let me get a chance,” Gilbair said. “The table was set, wasn’t it? It didn’t go the way I saw it going. It was a pitch I could drive and fortunate for them, they caught it.”
Gilblair did get ahold of a pitch in the top of the first against Trinity freshman James Ramsey. Two pitches after junior Travis Bass gave the Warriors a 1-0 lead with a lazy fly ball that just barely cleared the top of the right field fence, Gilblair followed with a towering shot just to the right of where Bass’s home run landed to give Eastern a 2-0 lead.
Trinity quickly responded in the bottom of the inning when junior James Wood lined a hard shot to right to score a pair and tie the game.
Eastern took a fleeting 3-2 lead in the top of the third The Bantams went ahead for good two innings later.
Senior Sean Kileen lead off with a walk and junior Kent Graham was hit by junior Will Musson’s offering to put runners on first and second with no outs. Senior Ryan Piacentini and and freshman Ryan Mortimer each had RBI singles to give Trinity a 4-3 lead. The Bantams added what would prove to be a crucial run in the top of the fifth on Piacentini’s sacrifice fly.
After junior Melvin Castillo’s solo home run in the eighth cut the lead to 5-4, Bayer ran into some tough luck in the top of the ninth.
With one out, sophomore Andrew Dewing pinch hit for freshman Steve Cammuso. Dewing lofted popped a short fly ball that fell just out of the reach of junior first baseman Kent Graham.
Junior John Parke hit a check swing dribbler down the third base line. Bayer came off mound to get it, picked it up and dropped it as Parke was given credit for an infield hit. After Bass walked to load the bases, Bayer struck out sophomore Jim Schult on three pitches, setting up the showdown with Gilblair, who checked in with an aggressive mindset.
“I wanted to hit the first good one,” he said. “He left it up, it was in. I just couldn’t get the barrel of the bat around to it. I missed the pitch.”
But seeing Bayer in the game was something Eastern head coach Bob Holowaty was hoping to avoid.
“One thing you don’t want to do is to give them a chance to bring their best pitcher in to close the game,” he said “We put ourselves in a tough situation, I thought [Trinity coach Bill] Decker did a great job bringing him in, I thought it might have been a little bit too early, but Bayer proved that wrong.”
After watching Eastern (39-8) rally in the ninth against WPI the day before, Decker was well aware of the momentum Eastern could gain from another late rally.
“I can’t tell you that some of those thoughts didn’t go through my mind because they did,” he said.
But Bayer made that a moot point and closed the door on Gilblair and three other seniors- Andrew Magnolia, James Kukucka, and Tristan Hobbes – Eastern careers.
“There’s not enough adjectives to describe what he’s done for our baseball program,” Holowaty said of Gilblair. “It was a heartbreak and I know our seniors feel horrible, but Trinity did a heck of a job. We wish them the best.”
The Bantams (33-5) will open the World Series Friday at 2 p.m. against Kean