Baseball: Belchertown bests Wahconah behind Aidan Torna, wearing No. 5 for a fallen friend

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  • A No. 5 Belchertown baseball jersey hangs on the Orioles dugout fence before a game against Wahconah on Friday in Belchertown.  Zachary Fraleigh, a Belchertown student-athlete who died in a car crash on Monday, wore No. 5 for Belchertown. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Belchertown pitcher Josh Misiaszek struck out eight in a shutout victory over Wahconah on Friday in Belchertown. The freshman allowed just five hits and two walks. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Belchertown pitcher Josh Misiaszek struck out eight in a shutout victory over Wahconah on Friday in Belchertown. The freshman allowed just five hits and two walks. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Belchertown juior Joey Mankowsky kneels at the memorial set up at Zachary Fraleigh’s parking spot before the Orioles baseball team played Wahconah on Friday. “Just telling him that I’m playing for him,” Mankowsky said. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Belchertown senior Cam Bacon celebrates the first home run of his high school career in the fourth inning against Wahconah on Friday in Belchertown. The three-run blast put the Orioles up 6-0. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Belchertown junior Aiden Torna flexes after a two-run single with the bases loaded against Wahconah on Friday in Belchertown. He advanced to second on the throw home. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Belchertown junior Aiden Torna warms up in the on deck circle against Wahconah on Friday. Torna styled his eye black to read “Z5” in honor of Zachary Fraleigh, a teammate and friend who died in a car crash  Monday. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Belchertown senior Cam Bacon celebrates the first home run of his high school career in the fourth inning against Wahconah on Friday in Belchertown. The three-run blast put the Orioles up 6-0. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer
Published: 5/6/2022 8:13:53 PM

BECHERTOWN — Joey Mankowsky crouched in the parking lot as his Belchertown baseball teammates filed into the dugout.

The junior opened a Bang energy drink and took a sip, gazing over the parking spot memorial set up for his classmate Zachary Fraleigh. Fraleigh died in a car crash Monday. Friday’s game against Wahconah was the first time Belchertown played at home since — an emotional 9-0 victory.

Mankowsky poured a sip over the asphalt for Fraleigh then took another for himself, back and forth until the can emptied. He left it there among candles, flowers and red Solo cups.

“Just telling him that I’m playing for him,” Mankowsky said. 

Each Oriole did that in their own way. Some wrote his soccer No. 5 on their face with eye black and a Z. Others wrote his name and number on a wrist band. Belchertown draped its No. 5 baseball jersey over the dugout railing during warmups like a teammate cheering them from the other side of the wall.

Junior Aiden Torna asked Belchertown coach Evan Berneche if he could wear No. 5 for the game.

“He meant a lot to me. He was a very good friend of mine. I knew he really wanted to be with me at all times,” Torna said. “I thought it would really help.”

The burden weighed heavy during his first at bat with one out in the bottom of the second inning. Belchertown had Eli Sayball-Wimmer on first base after an error. Torna wanted to lift his team with a clutch hit, to drive in a run for a team going through a horrific week and that struggled with slow starts. He popped out and stormed back to the dugout frustrated.

“Maybe got out in front of it a little, but, you know, trying  to do it for somebody right now,” Torna said.

Berneche caught him in the dugout and told him to relax, swing with his hands.

“He’s the kind of kid that wears his emotions on his sleeve,” Berneche said. “That can be a hit or miss thing.”

Torna didn’t miss his next chance. Belchertown loaded the bases on three walks to open the bottom of the fourth inning in a scoreless game. Chris Misiaszek drew a walk to bring in the first run of the game and put the Orioles ahead. Torna, normally the nine-hole hitter but batting seventh in a lineup shakeup for a team on a two-game losing streak, stepped into the batters box.

He inhaled and told himself, “I gotta do it for my boy Zach right now.”

And he did. Torna ripped a line-drive single that scored two runs, sparking a six-run inning in a 9-0 victory. He drove in three runs in the game and drew a walk.

“You can’t ask for anything more than that. He’s not trying to do to much. He’s not trying to hit it out of the park. Usually we don’t have anybody that can hit it out of the park,” Berneche said. “He’s a great kid. He’s a tough kid. He’s an emotional kid. All that came to fruition.”

Belchertown (6-5) hadn’t hit a home run all season. Their No. 8 hitter, senior catcher Cam Bacon, last went yard in middle school. But Friday wasn’t a usual day at Belchertown High School.

Bacon obliterated one of the first pitches he saw, sending it way deep over the center field fence. The Wahconah center fielder flipped over it trying to track it down. The ball landed in the woods beyond the walking path down to the softball field. 

“It’s just kind of what we needed (Friday), and at that moment in the game,” Berneche said. “Sometimes things like that work out, and I’d like to think that these guys’ friend was looking out for them, and they felt a little part of him.”

With six runs on the board, freshman pitcher Josh Misiaszek doubled down on the strike zone. He struck out eight batters, allowing just five hits and two walks.

“He’s a different breed,” Berneche said. “He’s not normal, in a good way. He’s mentally tough, and he’s 14 years old.”

The Orioles added three more runs in the fifth, the first an RBI walk by Torna then two pitches that skipped past the catcher allowed Belchertown to score two more. One more run would have ended the game after five innings – on a day for No. 5 – but a popout sent the Orioles back to the dugout to end the game the old fashioned way.

Misiaszek worked around a double in the top of the sixth and a single and a walk in the top of the seventh. Belchertown shortstop Tyler McDonald and second baseman Mankowsky ended the game with a lineout, flip to second for the force out with runners off the bag double play to finish the game.

Belchertown shook hands with Wahconah then gathered in right field, where Torna wore No. 5 all game. Smiles adorned their faces as Berneche handed Bacon the home run ball and distributed kudos – smiles hard to find this week but not out of place.

“It helps, it gets my mind off stuff, I love hanging with the boys,” Torna said. “And Zach always loved sports, so you know, gotta keep playing no matter what.”

He’s going to keep the number for the rest of the season.

“It means a lot to me right now,” Torna said.

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.
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