By Nick Curcuru
---- — ESSEX — Although the Intertown Twilight Baseball League finals was tied at one game a piece entering last night’s pivotal game three at Memorial Field, the Manchester Essex Mariners viewed it as a must win game.
The Mariners did not want to have to go on the road for Saturday’s Game 4 in the Best-of-5 series needing a win to stay alive.
In the end the Mariners took care of business with two big offensive rallies and a gutsy performance on the mound from the seldom used Rory Gentile en route to a 10-6 win at Memorial Field. With the win the Mariners can clinch their second straight ITL title with a win in Sunday’s Game 4 in Rowley (2:00 p.m.). If the Rams win on Saturday there will be a winner take all Game 5 on Sunday in Essex (2:00 p.m.).
“We needed this one tonight because we didn’t want to have to win on the road,” Mariners manager Bryan Lafata said. “We did a good job taking advantage of some mistakes early tonight and Rory gave us the innings we needed out of him.”
The Mariners took command of the game in the first inning touching up Rowley starter Nick Liguori for five runs in the frame.
Trailing 1-0 on a RBI single from Rowley’s Colby Thibault in the top of the frame, it took just one pitch to erase the deficit as Gentile helped out his own cause by taking Liguori deep to tie the score at 1-1.
The Mariners put together some good at bats after that as two bases loaded walks brought in two more runs while a Rusty Tucker RBI single and a Lafata sacrifice fly brought in two more to make it 5-1 Mariners through one.
“The first inning was pretty much the difference,” Rams manager Jeff Wood said. “That team is too good to give them extra chances and they took advantage of them tonight. But there isn’t much I wasn’t happy with, we put some good swings on the ball and battled back, they just had more timely hitting.”
The teams traded runs through the next four innings and went to the bottom of the sixth with the Mariners leading 6-2 when the game took a wild turn.
Manchester Essex appeared to have broken the game wide open scoring a run on a wild pitch followed by a back breaking three run blast from Mike Cain to make it 10-2, but the Rams wouldn’t go out quietly.
Cam D’Agostino cut the Mariners lead to 10-5 with a three run bomb to left field chasing Gentile. Two batters later Marco Luisi made it 10-6 with his second solo shot in as many innings. But reliever Rusty Tucker would get the final two outs to preserve the win and control of the series for the time being.
“They’re a good, young team, we knew they wouldn’t go out quietly,” Lafata said. “That sixth inning rally turned out to be big for us. It was key for us to take advantage of their mistakes in the first and the sixth.”
The Mariners will send staff ace Tucker to the hill in Game 4 Saturday in a Game 1 rematch against Mike Sloban. Tucker out-dueled Sloban in Game 1 to the tune of a 3-2 Mariners win. Rowley will need to solve Tucker at home on Saturday to keep its season going.
“We like playing at home,” Wood said. “We have a young, athletic team and we play well there. We gotta tip our cap to the Mariners tonight but we will be back and ready to play on Saturday.”