By GERRY deSIMAS, JR.
Connecticut Sports Online
WATERBURY, Aug. 4 -- The margin of error for the Torrington Twisters is slight, especially when facing the hard-hitting Keene Swamp Bats.
One extra out in the sixth inning spelled the difference in Game 2 of Sunday night's NECBL quarterfinal series at Municipal Stadium. When second baseman Garrick Evans dropped a toss from shortstop Lawrence Best-Berfet, it voided an attempted double play and set the table for the Swamp Bats.
Instead of two outs, or even one out, Keene had the bases loaded with no outs. Keene followed with a pair of doubles and scored six runs as the Swamp Bats pounded the Twisters, 12-1, to even the best-of-3 series at 1-1. A deciding Game 3 will be tonight at Tenney Field in Brattleboro, Vt.
On Saturday in the opening game of the series, the Twisters didn't make any crucial mistakes as they earned a thrilling 2-1 victory by scoring the winning run in the top of the ninth inning on a suicide squeeze bunt.
However, last night the Swamp Bats pounced upon each mistake they could. Keene had a record 17 hits, including 12 off Twister starter Jason Jones in seven innings.
"I started getting tired, leaving the ball up in the zone and making some mistakes," admitted Jones. "They hit the ball well. In some games, when I made mistakes it didn't cost me as much. Keene capitalizes on mistakes."
Buoyed with a six-run lead after six innings, Keene starter David Austen mowed down the Twisters in the final four innings with 10 of his game-high 14 strikeouts (9 looking). Austen struck out seven of the final eight Twister batters, including six on called third strikes.
"I could sit back and throw my fastball," said Austen, who won a league-record seven games this season. "If they hit it, they hit it. But they missed most of them."
Austen admitted he is a slow starter and Torrington took a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Evans led off the game with a single and moved to third base on a single by Mike Sokel on a hit-and-run play. Evans scored on the Jim Fasano single.
However, Torrington couldn't extend its lead. Sokol was thrown out trying to steal second base. Jeff Hourigan singled, but Austen struck out Emory Davies to end the threat.
In the sixth, Keene had the bases loaded with no out after the Evans error, which gave Keene its first run of the game. A Jones walk made it 2-1 and Russ Triplett followed with a two-RBI double for a 4-1 lead. A sacrifice fly and a two-RBI double from Rocky Baker gave Keene a commanding 6-1 lead.
The Twisters will start either Tim Rice (1-2, 2.70) or Peter Maki (1-1, 2.18) tonight in Brattleboro. Rice fanned 11 and allowed only two hits in eight innings against the Bats on June 21.
Sokol and Hourigan each had two hits for the Twisters. Center fielder John Cronin made a tremendous defensive play in the third inning, throwing out Keene's Jeff Barry, who tried to score from second base on a single to center field.
DIAMOND DUST: Saturday night's victory in Game 1 was a thrilling one for the Twisters, who snapped a five-game losing streak to Keene with the victory.
With one out, John Cronin was hit by a pitch and moved to third base on a double by Evans. With two strikes on shortstop Lawrence Best-Berfet, Twister coach Gregg Hunt called for the suicide squeeze.
"I thought was the craziest thing in the world," Best-Berfet said Sunday of the call with two strikes. "But I knew I had to get the ball down in play because John would be coming [home]." The pitch was inside but Best-Berfet bunted the ball to the left side of the pitcher's mound. By the time that
Keene reliever Greg Kloosterman scrambled off the mound to get the ball, Cronin was home with the game-winning run.
In the ninth, Keene had runners on first and third base with one out but Twister hurler Jeff Hourigan got two strikeouts to end the game. Hourigan went the distance for the Twisters, scattered five hits and striking out eight.
Keene took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on an RBI double by Bryan LaHair but the Twisters tied the game in the fourth on a solo home run by Emory Davies.
"Hourigan got tougher as the game went on," Hunt said.
The Twisters set a new team playoff record by stranding 10 runners in game one. Seventeen hits allowed by the Twisters set a new playoff record for the team. ... The Twisters haven't won a playoff series since 1998 when they beat Rhode Island Reds in a 2-0 sweep in the NECBL semifinals.