Lyman Memorial nips St. Bernard behind Pontbriant in Class S quarterfinals
New London — Six games into the season, Lyman Memorial looked nothing like a team that would wind up in the Class S baseball tournament semifinals.
The Bulldogs lost five of their first eight games, including suffering a 7-0 loss to St. Bernard.
The two Eastern Connecticut Conference programs met again Saturday in the state tournament quarterfinals at Mitchell College.
Lyman played like a state championship contender, riding a superb pitching performance from Dominic Pontbriant, a couple rally-killing pick-off moves, fundamentally sound defense and some good fortune to a 1-0 victory.
The No. 10 seed, Lyman (18-8) will play No. 3 Haddam-Killingworth on Tuesday in its first trip to the semifinals since 2017. The site and time have yet to be announced.
“Maybe a lot of people might be surprised that we’re in the semis but we’re not surprised,” Lyman coach Marty Gomez said. “We got off to a little bit of a shaky start at the beginning of the season. I’m really proud of the kids because they just kept going through the process and coming out to the field every day and doing things the right way and enjoying being on the baseball field.
“Once we got Dominic after 10 games, I told them if you do things the right way, at some point in time we’re going to be fine. I thought this team was very capable of this type of thing. A lot of people may have doubted us but the kids never doubted themselves. They were really true to what our baseball program is all about.”
Pontbriant, a junior left-hander, had to sit out the first 10 games after transferring from Norwich Free Academy. He blanked second-seeded St. Bernard (20-5) with a sparkling complete-game effort.
The Bulldogs managed only four hits against St. Bernard’s Ryan Ziegler, with two coming in the decisive top of the seventh inning.
Pontbriant belted a leadoff double. Pinch runner Hunter Sanchez replaced him at second. Senior Jacob Citro’s one-out bloop single put runners at first and third, bringing up senior Nathan Cone.
Cone hit a bouncer to first baseman Ethan Chavez, who threw to second for the force out, but the Saints couldn’t complete the double play and Sanchez scored the game’s only run.
Pontbriant silenced the Saints in the bottom of the seventh, retiring the side in order. He allowed seven hits, struck out two and walked two while being aided by spotless defense.
“I felt really excited,” Pontbriant said. “I was nervous throughout the game. But I came up big. I hit that double in the top of the seventh and then my team got me from there.”
It was a frustrating loss for the Saints (20-5), who had the better chances to score.
They had three runners picked off, two straight in the second inning, and came inches away from taking the lead in the sixth.
“The pick-off plays were huge early on,” Gomez said.
Especially in the second inning when the Saints didn’t score despite the first four batters reaching base on three hits and a walk.
Pontbriant picked off senior Zion Fraser, who was aboard via a lead-off double. After junior Colin O’Leary beat out an infield single, he strayed too far off first base and Pontbriant nabbed him. Then Chavez walked and Ziegler singled, but the threat died there.
“Those first few innings, we left three runs on the board there,” St. Bernard coach Grant Livingston said.
St. Bernard appeared poised to break the scoreless deadlock in the bottom of the sixth but Lyman Memorial got a big break.
With Fraser on first and two outs, O’Leary belted a high drive to deep left that bounced off the turf and clipped the top of the fence before going over for a ground-rule double. So, instead of scoring, Fraser had to stop at third.
Pontbriant got Chavez to pop out for the third out.
It would be St. Bernard’s last scoring chance.
“When you get to this stage, you’ve got to be good and you’ve got to play good baseball,” Gomez said. “But to keep advancing, it’s nice to have the baseball Gods on your side now and then. We’ll take that break.”
Livingston feels good about the progress the Saints made this season. The program has a bright future.
“It obviously hurts for those seniors that have been here,” Livingston said. “They’ve helped build the program. I told them that we have expectations now going into next year. We have expectations of being a very good baseball program and a good baseball team and that’s because of those guys.
“... We lost five games this year, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. They had an incredible year.”
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