By Doug Bonjour
BETHEL — Bunnell baseball coach Scott Szturma couldn’t explain what happened in the sixth inning of Wednesday’s South-West Conference semifinal against Notre Dame-Fairfield. Both Lancers coach Bill Mazzucco and pitcher Dillon Stimpson also struggled to find the words.
The score, perhaps, was the most telling: a 12-4 ND-Fairfield rout of top-seeded Bunnell on the strength of a 10-run outburst in the sixth.
“We’ve never had anything like that as long as I’ve been a coach,” said Szturma, in his 19th season at Bunnell. “There’s nothing else you can say. Hat’s off to them. They capitalized on our mistakes.”
Bunnell had plenty of mistakes in a nightmare sixth inning, during which a seemingly comfortable 4-1 lead evaporated. Fifteen batters stepped to the plate in the inning and four recorded hits. Five others walked, one reached on an error and another was hit by a pitch. Five of the runs were charged to Bunnell star hurler Justin Lasko.
“What’s to think? Our team can hit,” said Stimpson, who earned the win, scattering seven hits in seven innings. “We pulled through this game.
“Phenomenal. Just phenomenal.”
Fourth-seeded ND-Fairfield (17-5) advanced to Thursday night’s final at Bethel High, where the Lancers will look to win their first SWC title in their sixth try. The other semifinal between defending champion Weston and Pomperaug was postponed Wednesday and will be played Thursday at 4 p.m. at Bethel.
The Lancers almost didn’t make it there, though. The prospect of reaching another SWC final appeared dicey, especially once Lasko settled into a rhythm. The right-hander retired 10 of the next 12 batters after allowing a run-scoring infield single to Kevin Bortnick in the second inning.
Lasko hit Spencer Basset with a pitch to lead off the sixth, and the inning unraveled from there. The next four batters reached base off Lasko, including Nick Carloto, who trimmed Bunnell’s lead to 4-3 with a two-run single. Matt Alcantara came in in relief and struck out the next two batters, but the tying run scored on a wild pitch.
Collin Cegelka’s bloop single scored two and put ND-Fairfield ahead for the first time, 6-4. Two more runs scored on bases-loaded walks.
Szturma was stunned to see the inning spiral out of control, especially with Lasko on the mound.
“He’s been our guy all year,” Szturma said of Lasko, who recorded a 0.88 ERA and six complete games during the regular season. “He threw the ball well. We just didn’t make a couple plays behind him. It is what it is.”
Bortnick’s three RBIs led ND-Fairfield. Cegelka and Carloto each drove in two runs in the team’s 11-hit afternoon.
“I knew eventually we would put something together,” Mazzucco said. “I didn’t know we were going to put 10 runs together. They’re a good team.”
Bunnell was held scoreless after a three-run third inning. Stimpson, who carried a perfect game into the seventh in a 2-1 defeat of the Bulldogs on May 12, retired 11 of the final 13 batters on Wednesday.
“They hit me,” said Stimpson, who struck out three and walked two. “My team got my back. I got their back.”
Bunnell got run-scoring singles in the third from Lasko, Ricky DiCicco and Ronnie Rossomando, the state Gatorade Player of the Year.
The Bulldogs will now turn their attention to the Class L tournament, which begins next week.
“A couple days of good hard practices and we’ll be alright,” Szturma said.
SWC semifinal at Bethel High
ND-FAIRFIELD 010 00(10) 1 — 12 11 2
BUNNELL 103 000 0 — 4 7 2
Records: ND-Fairfield 17-5, 10-4; Bunnell 17-5, 11-3. Batteries: NDF — Dillon Stimpson (W) and Matt Lasky; B — Justin Lasko (L), Matt Alcantara (6), Darek Wojenski (6), Chris McKulla (7) and Brian Valeriano.
Highlights: NDF — Collin Cegelka went 2-for-4 with a walk and two RBIs; Kevin Bortnick went 2-for-2 with two walks and three RBIs; Nick Carloto had a two-run single. B — Cameron Belliveau went 1-for-2 with a stolen base and two runs scored; Ronnie Rossomando went 1-for-2 with a walk and one RBI; Ricky DiCicco had an RBI single.