NECBL Quarterfinals: Valley Blue Sox season ends after Game 3 loss to Bristol Blues

By HANNAH BEVIS 

Staff writer 

Published: 08-03-2023 11:47 AM

HOLYOKE – The Valley Blue Sox’s season ended not with a bang, but a whimper. 

In a summer season where teams play a lot of baseball in a short amount of time, the Blue Sox ran out of gas against the Bristol Blues on Wednesday night. 

In the deciding Game 3 of the first round of the NECBL playoffs, No. 6 Bristol’s offense dominated against No. 3 Valley, scoring double-digit runs in a 10-3 win against the Blue Sox. Valley starter Dillon Ryan (six runs, two strikeouts) took the loss on the mound while Bristol’s Luke Benneche earned the win. 

The Blue Sox had to seriously change their pitching plan after Game 1 of the series went 13 innings.

“We use way too many pitchers than what we expected. Six guys, six arms in that first game, that totally beat us up,” Blue Sox head coach Santiago said.

The Blue Sox attempted a late rally in Game 3 after falling into a 10-0 hole, scoring three runs in the final three innings, but it was too little, too late against the Blues. 

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Valley didn’t get on the board until the bottom of the seventh. Matthew Bergevin (double) and Collier Cranford (single) got on base to start the inning, and Christian Fragrant loaded the bases with one out on a walk. Jeff Pierantoni singled to bring home Bergevin for Valley’s first run of the game. But even with the bases still loaded, Valley couldn’t bring anyone else across the plate, striking out and grounding out for the second and third outs. 

The Blue Sox scored another couple of runs in the bottom of the eighth, when Christopher Willis doubled and Bergevin and Cranford both walked to load the bases. Michael Zarillo singled and snagged two RBIs, scoring both Willis and Bergevin to make it 10-3. Ever cool and confident, Bristol recorded a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning and shut down Valley’s offensive surge. 

“Early on, we didn't get many of those (scoring chances) at all. But once we kind of figured it out and got on base we were able to make some things happen,” Santiago said.

Bristol scored in all but three of its nine innings, gradually building up its lead while holding Valley scoreless. Nine different Bristol players finished with at least one hit.

After going down 1-0 in the first inning, the Blue Sox dug themselves into an even deeper hole in the top of the second when an attempt to throw out a runner at first turned into a broken play. Bristol’s Billy Sullivan got stuck in a pickle between first and second, and while he ran back and forth, teammate Joey Rios moved to third and then went for home, scoring because of an overthrow that also allowed Sullivan to move all the way to third. Sullivan also scored before the end of the inning to make it 3-0 Blues. 

Bristol scored three more runs in the third to pad its lead to 6-0, the most runs they scored in a single inning in the contest. 

Valley stopped the bleeding in the fourth, keeping Bristol scoreless for the first inning all game, but Bristol scored once in both the fifth and sixth inning and plated a pair in the seventh to build up a seemingly insurmountable 10-0 lead. With its back against the wall, Valley was finally able to respond, but the Blues quashed any serious comeback chances. 

Despite the disappointing end to the season, Santiago and his staff were happy with their team’s accomplishments. The Blue Sox won the West Division and advanced to postseason play for the first time since 2018. 

“Those were our goals for sure, one thing at a time. We definitely wanted to win the division and make a big run, and I think we accomplished that much, but I wish we could have got it together and continued to play,” Santiago said.

Hannah Bevis can be reached at hbevis@gazettenet.com. Follow her on Twitter @Hannah_Bevis1.

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