ELLINGTON, Conn. — It should come as no surprise for anyone who has followed the Mystic 9-10 All-Star baseball team that a home run would key a potential state championship victory.
What was surprising was who hit the big three-run shot in the third inning that put Mystic up 4-0 and ultimately helped it to a 5-3 win over Fairfield National for the state championship.
The biggest hit of the game didn’t belong to slugger Jason Erb, but rather right fielder Ryan O’Connor, who missed the second game with an injury and was doubtful to play in Monday’s game.
Mystic manager Dave Mewha explained why he didn’t think O’Connor would play in game three of the three-game series.
“The fact that Ryan O’Connor was on crutches yesterday,” Mewha said. “He was playing manhunt after our Saturday game, came running out of the woods and fell over a rock.
“He was up at Pequot (outpatient facility) with a sprained knee. He didn’t play yesterday, but he hit the three-run homer for us today.”
Manhunt is a Hide-and-go-seek game that is played by older children.
Mystic was already up 1-0 in the top of the third inning after Erb singled home Cameron McGugan when O’Connor hit a long-ball to centerfield with two outs.
The homer also scored Erb, Jackson Bufmack, who reached on a walk, to make it 4-0. Erb singled twice.
The four-run deficit seemed to put more pressure on a Fairfield National squad that was already pressing at the plate.
Fairfield hit a large number of lazy fly-balls and weak grounders, which stood in contrast to how its offense performed in the first two games when it piled up 18 runs.
Mewha said that it was his team that battled the nerves in the first game and that the roles were reversed.
“We were awful tight in the first game,” he said. “Today we were real loose. We pitched well and played great defense.”
Mystic starting pitcher Jeffrey Lalima did nothing to help out the struggling Fairfield batters and kept the Section 1 champs off balance over the course of his 3-2⁄3 innings.
“He had a few walks, but he was effective,” Mewha said. “He didn’t allow many hits and this is a really good hitting team. They (Fairfield National) hit home runs in the first two games. They just couldn’t get a read on him.”
Lalima allowed two earned runs on four hits, walked four and struck out three.
The lone rough patch of the game for Lalima came in the fourth inning when he loaded the bases with one out on a single and a pair of hit batsmen.
Jack Andrews drove in a run on a fielders’ choice and Matt Holfelder drove in another on a single.
Bufmack, who had not previously pitched in All-Star play, came in and recorded the final out of the inning and Mystic held a 4-2 advantage after four complete.
Second baseman Alex Delcampo was next in line to pitch, but Mewha was afraid a move to the mound would weaken his defense.
“He was next on the pitching list, but we didn’t want to take him away from second base because he’s been so good.”
Delcampo made a number of good back-peddling catches on infield pop-ups.
Mystic added another run in the top of the fifth inning to bring the score to 5-2.
Fairfield went quietly in the bottom of the fifth, but threatened in the sixth.
With two outs and runners on first and second, Joey D’Elia hit a single to the left center gap, which scored a run and an errant throw home allowed the runners to move to second and third.
Mewha asked O’Connor, who also hadn’t previously pitched, to get the final out.
O’Connor induced a weak ground out from Fairfield clean-up hitter Casey Woodfine and the game ended with Mystic on top 5-3.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a state championship baseball team in Mystic,” Mewha said. “We had co-champs in 1987 at the 11-12s, but I don’t think we’ve ever won it at 9-10.”
Mystic will now represent Connecticut in the regional championships, which begin Saturday at 1 p.m. in Cranston.
The 9-10 All-Stars’ first game will be against the Maine champion.
Bufmack pitched two innings and allowed one earned run on two hits.