GHTBL Playoff Tournament Game #1: Expos 1, Clippers 0.
HARTFORD — It was a battle of the aces Thursday night at the Trinity Baseball Complex as Charlie Hesseltine and the Record-Journal Expos nipped Matt DiNello and the Ulbrich Clippers 1-0 in the opening game of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League playoffs.
This was an all-local duel. Hesseltine is from Meriden, DiNello from Southington.
Another Meriden product, A.J. Hendrickson, scored the game’s lone run when he tripled in the sixth inning and scored on Hector Gonzalez’s ground-rule double.
The fifth-seeded Expos advance to play the top-seeded Vernon Orioles on Friday night at 8 p.m. The fourth-seeded Clippers drop to the loser’s bracket and will play again Monday night at 6 p.m.
On Thursday, Hesseltine went the full sevening innings. He struck out six, walked three and allowed five hits.
“I started to get tired there around the fourth,” said Hesseltine. “It’s the playoffs; you push through it. This team has relied on its starters this season. I just stayed out there as long as I could and hit my spots.
“My command felt good,” the left-hander added. “My velocity isn’t there, so spotting is the only way I can succeed now.”
DiNello also went the full seven innings. He struck out four and allowed just three hits.
“He pitched phenomenal too,” said Hesseltine. “It’s fun to watch and it’s fun to be part of. When you’re part of a pitching duel, it brings up the intensity and puts the pressure on each other.”
From the get-go, DiNello and Hesseltine were dealing. Each guy struck out a pair in the first inning to take command of the strike zone and show each team that this one would come down to which ever pitcher made the first mistake.
Ulbrich’s Chris Anselmo did lead off the bottom of the first with a second, but ended up being stranded at second.
DiNello looked to be the commanding pitcher in the battle. His fastball was working well and he owned the strike zone. The Expos didn’t get their first hit until the third inning: a lead-off single from Matt Fusco. Fusco was erased on a fielder’s choice and a runner never left first base in the inning for the Expos.
DiNello also threw just three pitches in the fifth inning. Each R-J hitter grounded out.
“It was unexpected to see zeros on the board until the sixth,” said Hessltine. “Our team has been hitting very well this season and has consistently in past years, which is good for our starting pitchers. Maybe it was playoff jitters for some of the guys.”
For a while, it really didn’t look like either team was going to score a run. Fortunately for the Expos, whose lack of pitching depth would have probably been their downfall in an extended game, they figured out DiNello in the top of the sixth.
With one out, Hendrickson cranked a sure double out to right-center, where an Ulbrich outfielder struggled to play it off a good hop. Hendrickson slid head-first safely into third.
At third base with just one out, there was a good chance Hendrickson would score if the next batter, Gonzalez, put the ball in play. Gonzalez did one better. He lined a deep drive to left-center that one hopped the wall, bounced off the flag pole and sent Gonzalez to second for a ground-rule double and the only RBI of the game.
From there, some pressure was taken off of Hesseltine’s shoulders. The sixth and seventh innings were no issue for Hesseltine, who allowed just one baserunner the rest of the way.
The Expos were saved thanks to Hesseltine and just two key hits.
“It was a big weight off my shoulder,” said Hesseltine. “Seven is good enough for me.”