NASHUA, N.H. — The upstart Worcester Bravehearts may have finished the regular season as the sixth seed in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, but they played like champs in the postseason to earn a finals rematch against Nashua.
But like last year, the Bravehearts' season ended with a championship series loss to the nemesis Silver Knights, 2-0, Saturday night at Holman Stadium, as Nashua swept the best-of-three series, 2-0.
With Nashua starter Anthony Lupi scattering six hits over five innings of shutout ball, the defending champs scratched across runs in the second and fifth innings — with some help from the Bravehearts.
With one out in the second, Dylan Maher grounded a single to right and moved to second on a wild pitch by Worcester starter Sebastian Gruszecki. After a popout, Tom Blandini rapped an RBI single to give the Silver Hawks the lead before Gruszecki whiffed Ted Williams to end the inning.
Gruszecki, a former Shepherd Hill Regional standout, kept the game tight going four innings with one earned run on five hits.
“I was just trying to pitch to the best of my ability and give these guys a chance to win,” Gruszecki said. “These guys turned into my brothers. We had a great chemistry.”
In the fifth, Justin Willis relieved and issued a leadoff walk to Williams. Sam Cook’s nicely placed sacrifice bunt moved Williams to second, and Kyle Bonicki of Clark University drove him home on a soft ground-ball single to right.
Worcester’s biggest threat came in the first inning when Trevor Johnson yanked a wall-ball double to left to lead off the game. He advanced to third on a flyout by Greg Kocinski with one down, but was stranded as Brett Coffel grounded out to short.
“(Nashua) pitched really, really well,” Worcester manager J.P. Pyne said. “They had two quality starts and their bullpen, when we got it to bend even slightly, didn’t break. I thought we hit the ball really hard tonight and just didn’t have a whole lot to show for it.”
The postseason run seemed unlikely after an up-and-down season for the Bravehearts that included some key injuries.
But after knocking off the Wachusett Dirt Dawgs in a single-elimination game, and taking down the league’s top seed Brockton Rox in a semifinal series, the team earned a repeat finale against Nashua.
“At different times in the season if you told me we’d be here in this situation, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Pyne said. “I don’t have the words to express the pride I have in these guys for sticking together.”
Mariano Ricciardi had two singles and a walk to lead the Bravehearts’ offense. Coffel, Pat DeMarco and Bryan Hart also had singles.
“There were some lean times, some struggles and frustration, but when it came right down to it, they laid it on the line and gave us a chance," Pyne said. "Even in the last inning tonight (and last night) to bring the tying run to the plate just shows the heart of this team.”
Gruszecki had mixed emotions reflecting on the season and vowed to come back.
“The run we made was something special, and I know we’ll be back next year that’s for sure," he said. "We had a real good brotherhood this summer.
“It’s been a blast, and I had fun playing with these guys. We have a great coaching staff, great organization, and I couldn’t have picked a better place to play.”
—Contact Shaun Suhoski at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @tgsports.