By GERRY deSIMAS, JR.
Connecticut Sports Online
TORRINGTON, Aug. 3 -- Still standing after a host of injuries, the Keene Swamp Bats finally landed a body blow that the Twisters couldn't absorb in Friday night's decisive game 3 of the NECBL semifinals.
The surging Swamp Bats used a pair of home runs and a dominating nine-inning pitching performance from righthander Gabe Ribas to eliminate the Twisters, 4-2, on a rainy Friday night at Fuessenich Park.
The Swamp Bats, who have won eight of its last nine games, advance to the NECBL championship series against Newport, a 12-2 winner over Eastern. Keene won the best-of-3 series, 2-1. The finals begin today in Newport.
The loss of personnel has been steady all season, culminating with the loss of No. 4 hitter Nate Gold last week when he broke his hand and No. 3 hitter Robert Newton, who went home for a family emergency. Starting pitcher Eric Thomas was lost prior to the series with a staph infection.
But it was the players on the field that made the difference in this series. Keene's Myron Lesile hit his third home run of the series in the first inning to give the Bats a 1-0 lead. Tim Arroyo added a second home run in the sixth inning for a 4-0 lead.
The Swamp Bats hit eight home runs, scored 20 runs and had 28 hits in the three-game series.
The Twisters, meanwhile, couldn't cash in on their opportunities and eight hits.
"We hit but we don't score," Twister coach Gregg Hunt said.
"(Torrington) is a great team," said Ribas afterwards. "They make you focus for nine innings. There is never a weak spot in their order. I had to have my best game on today to face these guys."
Keene's Ribas pitched his fifth complete game of the season, scattering eight hits and striking out seven.
The Swamp Bats led 4-0 when the Twisters came to the plate in the bottom of the eighth in steady rain. Mike McMillian led off the inning with a single and moved to second on Adam Haley's one-out walk. Tabor Lee loaded the bases when he reached on an error by third baseman Myron Lesile.
With the Fuessenich Park faithful screaming, catcher Brian Lentz lofted a foul ball deep down the right field line. Keene outfielder Eric Rico made a tremendous diving catch for the out and McMillian scored from third. But Rico threw the ball wildly toward home and it when it skipped away from the catcher, Haley scored from second base with Lee, hampered by a pulled muscle he suffered running to first base, scampering to third base.
But Ribas composed himself to strike out Justin McClain to end the threat, leaving Keene ahead, 4-2.
In the sixth inning, the Twisters had runners on first and third base with one out but Ribas was able to get Lentz to ground into an inning-ending double play.
"He changed speeds," Haley said. "He got that first pitch over for a strike, gets ahead and now you're guessing what is he going to throw next."
"We were resilient," Hunt said. "We could have given up down by four in the eighth but we were swinging away."
Ribas struck out two in the ninth to clinch the series.
Torrington starter Reuben Kerbs was excellent for four innings, allowing only a solo home run. But he got in trouble in the fifth with three walks and a double that gave Keene a second run and loaded the bases. Keene's Kevin Melillo had a sacrifice fly off reliever Tony Stutz to give the Bats a 3-0 lead.
Twister left fielder Mike McMillian nearly threw out Keene's Gabe Bergeron at home on the sacrifice fly. McMillian's throw was just a bit inside and Lentz was just a second too late on the tag at home. Lee, Haley and first baseman Rory Shortell combined on a double play to end the inning.
Arroyo's solo home run in the seventh gave the Bats a 4-0 lead.
Seven Twisters had a hit in the game with Lentz and Brandon Roberts, who played with a sprained ankle, each having RBI.
FIRST PITCH: Former Braves first baseman Rico Brogna
threw out the first pitch. Friends with Twister president Bob Wirz, Brogna was happy to come to the park and help out and chat with the Twisters before the contest.
He talked baseball with the squad and was peppered with questions about playing with such Major League stars as Greg Maddeux.
DIAMOND DUST: If the Twisters had advanced to the NECBL finals, they would have played games 1 and 3 at Waterbury's Municipal Stadium, thanks to the help from the Waterbury Park and Recreation Department. The 2001 American Legion state tournament begins today at Fuessenich Park and runs for a week. ... The Swamp Bats are 3-1 in deciding playoff games, while the Twisters are 1-3. ... McClain broke his bat in half on a foul ball in the seventh inning. ... Keene's five home runs in Thursday's 14-4 win over Torrington in the NECBL semifinals was the most that the Twisters have allowed in a single game. The fourth-inning grand slam by Keene's Kevin Melillo off Rory Shortell was only the second grand slam given up by the Twisters in team history. ... The Twisters did tie a team playoff record with 11 hits and two home runs (Justin McClain and Adam Haley). ... Twister public address announcer Larry Wright said he will retire from his PA duties after the season to spend more time with his family. He has been with the team since its inception five years ago. ... Nearly 60 fans from Keene traveled down to Torrington to cheer on their team.
POST SEASON AWARDS: Twister shortstop Taber Lee
was named the top pro prospect in the NECBL in balloting by the league coaches. Lee, a two-year veteran of the league, hit .321 with a team-high 44 hits, six doubles, two triples and 10 RBI. He earned All-NECBL honors at shortstop and played on the NECBL All-Star team in the game against Cape Cod.
Former Twister Matt Elfeldt was named the NECBL's relief pitcher of the year. Elfeldt (0-1, 0.64 ERA) led the league with 10 saves and did not allow an earned run in his last 13 appearances. In his final 13 games, he allowed only seven hits and struck out 20.
Keene's Shawn Larkin was named the NECBL's most valuable player. He led the league with 53 hits and hit .358. He led the Swamp Bats with eight home runs and 27 RBI. A three-time All-NECBL selection, he led the league with 17 extra-base hits.
Keene's Chris Westervelt won the NECBL's batting championship with a .359 average and earned rookie of the year honors. Westvelt was third in the league with 47 hits and set a Swamp Bat record with a 24-game hitting streak to open the season.
Concord's John Velosky (6-1, 0.76 ERA) was named pitcher of the year. He led the league with 65 strikeouts. He had a season-high 13 strikeouts against Manchester on June 16.
Other award winners included Concord catcher Matt Tupman, who was named the league's top defensive player; Newport's Mike Bohlander as the most improved; Newport's Kainoa Obrey with the 10th man award and Middletown's Jeff Tarigo with the sportsmanship award. Eastern skipper Mike Susi was named manager of the year.