Schult leads East Hartford Jets to third straight Twilight League playoff title
By Adam Betz, Journal Inquirer
MIDDLETOWN — Jim Schult is no stranger to success on the baseball diamond.
He had a standout career at Eastern Connecticut State University, including being named the 2011 National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Division III National Player of the Year.
Since joining the East Hartford Jets of the Greater Hartford Twilight League in 2019 “after being on the couch for a few years,” that success has remained.
And it gained another example Tuesday.
Schult finished with two hits, two RBIs, a run scored, and was the winning pitcher as No. 2 East Hartford rallied to beat the third-seeded Vernon Orioles 5-4 to win their third straight GHTBL playoff championship at Palmer Field.
“It was hard to win the first one. It was really hard to repeat,” the 32-year-old Fishkill, New York native said. “We had a special group of guys that were able to battle through the adversity. … I’m not sure I have the best words to describe how I’m feeling right now, but it means a lot.”
Schult pitched 4 1/3 innings of relief. He allowed two runs on four hits, struck out seven, and walked one. At the plate, he was the only Jet with multiple hits.
“He leads us by example and he makes everyone around him better,” East Hartford player/manager Taylor Kosakowski said of Schult. “He’s the guy you want on the mound or at the plate in a big spot. He’s the guy you want to see up there.”
The Jets, who were co-regular season champions, finish 24-7. They lost their first game of the double-elimination tournament [to the Hartford Colts] before rattling off six straight wins, including a 5-1 win over the Orioles on Monday to force Tuesday’s winner-take-all game.
“It says a lot about who we are,” designated hitter Andy Pelc said. “I feel like that first game, even though it didn’t go our way, put a chip back on our shoulder. I think that’s the reason we’re here today.”
The Orioles were making their seventh straight championship game appearance Tuesday night. They finish 20-9.
“I’m really proud of how we played a much better game tonight,” manager Jack Ceppetelli said. “We swung the bats well against a couple of the premier pitchers in the league. We just ran into one bad inning.”
Vernon held a 2-0 lead and threatened to break the game open with the bases loaded and two down in the top of the third.
But Schult came in from right field and needed only one pitch to end the inning.
Manny Alejandro led off the bottom of the frame with a single, the first Jets’ baserunner.
East Hartford would load the bases, with the help of a two-out error, to set the stage for Schult. He sent the first pitch from starter Bill Riggieri to center for a two-run single to tie the game.
“I was just looking for a good pitch to hit,” Schult said. “I worked the count in my prior at-bat, so I got to see some pitches from him. It just so happened that I got a mistake with the first one.”
Janiel Ramirez drew a bases-loaded walk to break the tie and Pelc added a two-run single as East Hartford brought 10 batters to the plate in the inning to make it 5-2.
The Orioles trimmed the deficit to one in the top of the sixth when Ian Halpin sent a two-run double to the right-field fence.
He finished with three hits Tuesday.
“That’s a huge hit to get us close in the sixth,” Ceppetelli said. “We just couldn’t quite get there.”
Schult regrouped and struck out the next batter looking to end the inning.
“I’ve got a whole bunch of guys in the dugout that are counting on me to get out of the inning,” Schult said. “We’re all hurting, we’re all tired at this point in the year. You just want to push through it. Like Bryan (Albee) threw 20-something innings for us during the playoffs, I wasn’t going to let him down. I wasn’t going to let anyone down. Just concentrating and finishing the job.”
Vernon jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first when Nick Roy scored on an error and Tyler Pogmore brought home Halpin with an RBI single.
Peter Kelley finished with two hits for Vernon. Riggieri took the loss. He allowed five unearned runs on five hits while striking out two and walking two over four innings.
East Hartford starter Albee, a member of Eastern’s National Championship team this year, allowed two runs — one of them earned — and struck out two in 2 2/3 innings.
Tuesday’s win was a bittersweet one for Kosakowski, who has managed the team since it re-formed in 2019 after folding a year prior. The Berlin native said he’s stepping down to devote more time to his family.
“Obviously, it’s very emotional,” he said. “Sixteen years playing in this league, it’s hard to come by a championship, let alone be a part of something this special. So, I hope I can continue to help out and contribute to the team as much as I can. I’m a school psychologist, and they always teach you to leave them better than you found them. For me, that’s what I’ve aimed to do with this team and I hope that I did that.”