MERIDEN — Here’s what we know about City Series finalists South Meriden and Ed Walsh.
South Meriden can rip even the best pitching. Ed Walsh can score a lot of runs even if it’s not knocking the ball all over the yard.
A lead is not safe against either team. Make a mistake and both will capitalize.
Here’s what we have yet to learn: Which youth baseball league is Meriden’s best of 2019.
That will be decided Thursday night when the two squads meet for a winner-take-all finale at Habershon Park. South Meriden forced it by taking a see-saw battle 9-7 on Wednesday night on the shores of Hanover Pond.
(For the record, South Meriden pushed the margin to 12-7 in the top of the seventh, but darkness intervened and the game reverted back to the last completed inning.)
Also for the record, with no need for parenthesis: South Meriden’s Sean Nowicky brought in seven runs and collected three hits, including a grand slam, while teammate Jesus Arraez closed the door on Ed Walsh with two-plus innings of hitless relief.
Arraez and South Meriden starter David Stimpson combined on a one-hitter, yet Ed Walsh still managed to score seven runs by cashing in on walks and errors. Zach Burdacki had the lone hit, an infield single in the first inning.
By game’s end, both teams stood 2-1 for the double-elimination City Series, each having beaten Jack Barry amid splitting with one another.
That sets up Thursday’s finale back at Habershon at 5:30 p.m. Both teams go in believing.
“We used a lot of our pitching [tonight], but I’m confident,” said South Meriden head coach Gabe Zamorano. “We have Nowicky on the mound. He pitched Saturday against them and did a great job. We had a few errors at the beginning of the game, but I’m confident. As you can see, our bats, we hit very well.”
From Ed Walsh coach Mike Duffy: “I’m excited; I love the challenge. Like I told these kids, we won once against them already, It’s not like we can’t win. The first game’s proof.”.
Ed Walsh won that first meeting 5-4, scoring all five runs in the second inning fueled by three errors, then withstood a late South Meriden rally.
In the second clash on Wednesday, the teams exchanged leads. The fourth was the crazy frame. South Meriden shot ahead 8-3 with six runs in the top half. Ed Walsh answered with four to close to within 8-7.
Arraez entered and kept the East Siders at bay while also scoring an insurance run in the sixth off a ball hit by Nowicki.
The same combination produced South Meriden’s opening salvo in the top of the first. Arraez launched a double deep into the left-center gap and scored when Nowicky flared a tough pitch from Ed Walsh starter Tyler Duffy into right field.
South Meriden mojo lapsed in the bottom of the first, however. Three throwing errors on pick-offs and stolen bases, combined with three walks and the infield hit by Burdacki, added up to three Ed Walsh runs and a 3-1 score.
In the midst of it all was a thing of beauty: a successful squeeze bunt by Hunter Cloukey that scored Duffy with the first Ed Walsh run.
South Meriden got one run back in the top of the third prior to the six-run eruption in the fourth.
In that third inning, South Meriden loaded the bases on two walks and a seeing-eye single into left by Jayden Gaither. Nowicky followed and lofted a high fly ball that found grass and brought in one run. A second runner was thrown out at the plate on the play.
No matter. South Meriden was making contact and broke through in a monster way in the fourth. Andres Gutierrez got it rolling, lacing a low liner into left, and Braylin Silverio followed with a walk.
Tyler Duffy got two strikeouts and was on the verge of getting off the cliff. Instead came an avalanche.
Gaither engaged in some fine two-strike hitting, knocking a RBI single up the middle to tie it up, and Stimpson lashed a RBI single into left for a 4-3 lead.
After a walk to Arraez, Nowicky crushed Duffy’s first pitch over the center field fence for a grand slam.
“I just thought he was going to throw me a fastball and I loaded and swung,” said Nowicky, who is friends with Duffy. “It just felt good off the bat. And then I saw it go over.”
Nowicky’s slam put the South Meriden boys up 8-3. Cracks, however, immediately appeared. Stimpson, struggling with a blister on his pitching hand, walked four batters in the bottom of the fourth. Two scored on wild pitches. The other two scored on a two-out error on a sharp grounder off the bat of Duffy.
Stimpson walked a fifth batter, hit the pitch limit and was done.
Arraez came on, got a strikeout and the inning was over. But there it was: Ed Walsh had closed an 8-3 deficit to 8-7.
South Meriden looked to rebound in the fifth against Burdacki, who relieved Duffy. He walked a pair and gave up some well-struck shots to Gutierrez and Gaither. Both, however, were hit directly at Ed Walsh outfielders.
Arraez returned to the hill and retired Ed Walsh in order. On to the sixth it went, with South Meriden clinging to that 8-7 lead and daylight on the wane.
South Meriden added insurance in the sixth. Arraez drew a one-out walk, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on a Nowicky ground ball that ate up an infielder.
Arraez protected that 9-7 lead in what proved to be Ed Walsh’s last licks in the sixth. The tying runs were aboard via consecutive one-out walks.
The stage was set for Ed Walsh’s big hitters, Duffy and Burdacki. Duffy bounded a ball to third base. South Meriden’s Ashley Stimpson gloved it and raced to the bag to cut down the lead runner.
Arraez handled the next play: a towering pop up from Burdacki that ended the threat. At least for the ensuing 24 hours.