by Eric Kolenich
GLEN ALLEN, Va. – Last week, the CT Capitals played a tournament in New Jersey, and their bats never came alive. They won two games, lost two, put a few runs on the scoreboard, but never really generated the kind of offense they expected.
On Saturday, the Capitals (Connecticut) put nine runs on the board in the first two innings en route to an 11-5 victory over the Long Island Strong Baseball Academy in the quarterfinals of the Pathway USBC Upperclass Championships at RF&P Park. The Capitals, who own a record of 5-0 so far this week, play in the semifinals Sunday at 10:30 a.m.
And this 11-run outburst came a day after the Capitals notched eight runs against the VA Seminoles. Why the Capitals have put their bats on the ball so much better in Virginia is anyone’s guess. The pitching they’ve seen in Virginia has been at the same caliber – if not better – than what they saw in New Jersey, said Capitals coach Joe Serfass.
“It happens,” Serfass said. “There’s no reason why. We are a good-hitting team.”
Hunter Dombal got the action going in the bottom of the first when he hit a bases-clearing double. An inning later, the Capitals put six runs on the board, all with two outs. Gunnar Johnson hit his third home run of the tournament, a three-run shot to left-center, and Dombal added an RBI double.
The pitcher hung a 1-2 curveball over the plate, and Johnson hit it high and deep. The center fielder gave chase, running to the wall, leaping and putting his glove up, but the ball disappeared behind the fence. Johnson finished 1-for-2, reached on an error, was hit by a pitch and scored three times.
“Nobody can get him out,” Dombal said. “It’s just hit, home run, gone.”
After Long Island Strong recorded two outs to start the second, they surrendered a walk and error and everything unraveled. Seven straight batters reached base, and six of them scored. Long Island Strong answered with two runs in the third and three in the fifth, but never got back in the game.
“We use all three outs and stretch each inning,” said Johnson, a rising senior committed to Wofford.
Brad Sakellarides was an unstoppable force for Long Island Strong, going 3-for-3 with a home run, two doubles and three RBI. Earlier in the week, he was the tournament’s home run derby champion. In the fifth inning, the Capitals employed a shift, moving three infielders to the left side of second base.
It didn’t matter. Sakellarides homered to left-center, a towering shot that landed somewhere among the trees. But he was the only bright spot for Long Island Strong, which struggled to keep the Capitals off the base paths. Dombal finished with two doubles and five RBI, Mark Bagdasarian had two hits and two runs, as did Jarod Dalrymple.
Starting pitcher Ethan Errera went the distance for the Capitals, allowing five earned runs on 10 hits and two walks. He got out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning when he got James Foster to fly out to center.
In the third, he let two runs cross the plate and allowed Long Island Strong to load the bases, but he escaped with no further damage when he picked off the runner at second, whipping his body 180 degrees and firing to Dalrymple, who put down a quick tag.
Errera typically serves as a closer, but he started Saturday because Serfass wanted a trustworthy arm on the mound for an elimination game. Serfass said he has a few pitching options left for the remainder of the tournament, including Dalrymple.
The way the Capitals have been hitting, he might need only so much from his pitchers.
“The whole team is coming together, offense, defense and pitching,” Dombal said.