Niantic moves on in Legion tourney by rallying past NL
East Lyme - Apparently Niantic is in its comfort zone playing comeback baseball.
Niantic has come to life this season time-and-time again when facing a deficit, and did it again Monday in the second round of the American Legion state baseball tournament against Zone 6 rival New London at East Lyme High School.
After falling behind 3-2 in the top of the seventh, seventh-seeded Niantic responded with four runs in the bottom of the inning to rally for a 6-3 victory.
Next up in Legion baseball's new state tournament format: a best-of-three series at No. 2 Tolland, the Zone 8 winner, starting on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m.
Manager Mike Aldrich likes Niantic's chances because of the team's fighting spirit.
"The great thing about this team moving forward is we're almost more comfortable coming from behind," Aldrich said. "We haven't had the lead early in very many games at all this summer. The kids respond to adversity and they respond when the bright lights come on.
"It's almost like they're used to it. It's a tribute to them. They're all tough hard-nosed kids who want to bat with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth to win the game."
Niantic didn't wait until the ninth to forge a comeback against No. 10 New London, using the big seventh inning outburst to bust up a pitcher's duel between Will Butler and New London's Andrew Fogarty.
Fogarty lasted into the seventh before being replaced by Pieter Khoury after allowing a leadoff single to Ryan Nickerson. David Peck pushed a perfectly placed bunt past the first base side of the pitcher's mound for an infield single and Billy Buscetto singled to load the bases.
With one out, Trent Garbati's slow roller went for an infield single to score the tying run and Austin Toback's sacrifice fly drove in the go-ahead run.
Connor Elliott's ringing double down the left field line - the only really hard hit ball in the inning - handed Niantic a 6-3 cushion. Five of Niantic's 10 hits came during the rally.
"We were getting our chances during the game," Elliott said. "That's been something we've struggled with at times, getting them in. As coach Aldrich said, when we get runners on base, the percentages say we'll get them in eventually.
''... So we knew in a nine-inning game we'd break it open at some point."
Butler, who struck out six and walked two in seven strong innings, and Buscetto combined to hold New London to just four hits.
"Will did a great job for us, without question, on shorter rest than he usually would go," Aldrich said. "I don't think he had his best stuff, but he fought. He was a bulldog on the mound and gave us a chance to win the game."
Matthew Przybysz and Owen Tretter had RBI singles in a two-run second for Niantic.
New London scored single runs in the second, fourth and seventh innings, taking its first lead (3-2) when speedy Jeremy Santos scored all the way from first on a two-out error in the seventh. Tim Jackson had a pair of RBI singles.
New London lost two of three during the regular season series between the two teams.
"My kids played hard, but we just came up a little short," New London manager Tom Vivirito said. "We always like to go a little farther. You want to get to the state tournament. Overall, it was a pretty good year for us. You can't be disappointed about winning 22 games."
Niantic's postseason continues a year after the program broke up for a season.
"It's good," Aldrich said. "But, again, it's about the kids that come every day ready to go to work. They gave up their summers to play baseball. I'm proud as hell about the work they put in."
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