Published in the August 6, 2019 edition.


WAKEFIELD — The Loafers could count on their hand the number of high-stress pitches they had in game one of the Twi League semifinals against the Expos on Sunday.

The Loaf scored so many runs, there was even a discrepancy that might still exist. The website said 15 yesterday. The players said it was 19 before game two. Today, the website has 20.

Either way, game one was in the past and the Expos made sure the Loafers remembered what those high-stress playoff pitches felt like on a warm August evening.

Jordan Fauci (7 IP, 7 H, 6 K, 4 BB, 2 R, 2 ER) took the ball for the Loafers opposing the Expos’ Danny O’Brien (6 IP, 7 H, 5 K, 0 BB, 3 R, 2 ER)

A 2-1 score after one made it seem like a slugfest was emerging at Moulton. Instead, both pitchers locked in and the defenses made plenty of strong plays to set up a nail-biter.

The Loafers took a 3-1 lead in the 4th and the Expos cut that to 3-2 in the 5th but Fauci shut down rallies in the 6th and the 7th to pick up the series sweep and send the Loafers to the finals where they will meet the winner of the Highlife-Unknowns semifinal.

The Expos kicked thing off with back-to-back singles by Kyle Grossi and Greg Jain. After Fauci struck out Nick Roberto, Mike Canatta ripped an RBI single for the first run of the game. A fly out and double up at first ended the inning.

The Loafers responded in the bottom of the first by taking a lead they would never relinquish.

Jared Pavey reached after a throwing error at short. After Connor O’Brien lined out, James Beaton launched an opposite field triple to even the game.

Taylor Robinson hit what looked like a surefire blooper but Chris McNall sold out for an incredible diving catch. Beaton tagged and scored on the play but the Expos needed the out more. O’Brien got Justin Sencabaugh to pop out.

Both pitchers orchestrated quick, nearly perfect innings in the second.

The two righties mirrored each other in the third as well, as each gave up one base hit but worked around it. O’Brien got back-to-back strikeouts to end the bottom of the third.

The top of the fourth didn’t have the appearance of a huge momentum swing at the time, but looking back it certainly changed the outcome of a close playoff game.

Roberto led off with a bomb to right center but Sal Mendonca made an unbelievable catch while in a full sprint. After Fauci struck out Canatta, Connor O’Brien made a great play on the run at short to get Steve Fiore.

Just after Danny O’Brien looked like he gave his offense some mojo with the two K’s in the bottom of the third, the Loafer defense took all of it away in the fourth, and their offense picked up an insurance run in the bottom of the frame that would end up being the winning run.

Robinson led off the bottom of the fourth with single to left. After an O’Brien balk advanced Robinson one base, Sencabaugh hit a grounder to Jain at second. Robinson took off for third and Jain put him in a pickle. In the midst of staying in limbo, Robinson motioned to Sencabaugh to take second. The Loafer third baseman scrambled for second as Robinson finally conceded to the run down.

But the Expos made the tag then quickly zipped it over to second where there was a close play. It looked like the Expos got Sencabaugh but the call was that he beat it.

If you asked the Expos, they would say that play maybe stole their season.

If you asked the Loafers, they would say they capitalized.

That they did when Mendonca hit a bomb to right, easily scoring Sencabaugh. Mendonca rambled all the way to third before the umps made the call that it was a ground rule double as it went under the fence.

“I ran all the way over here though,” said Mendonca, forcing a few more smile from an already happy Loafer bench before he embarked on a long trek back to second that must have felt more like a victory lap with his team up 3-1.

O’Brien stepped up and forced two groundouts to end the inning.

The Expos got one back in the top of the fifth.

O’Brien helped himself with a triple to right and his battery-mate Mark Andrick got him home with a groundout to second.

Fauci struck out McNall to end the inning.

O’Brien worked around a Pavey double in the fifth to keep his team in it by striking out Beaton and getting Robinson to fly out.

The Expos battled in the sixth and seventh but Fauci was up to the challenge in both innings.

Grossi hit a one-out single in the sixth but Fauci got Jain swinging for what would end up being a huge out as he walked Roberto and Canatta to load the bases.

What happened next was another major point of contention for the Expos. After a great at-bat, Fiore bounced a slow grounder in-between the mound and the plate. Fauci picked it up and threw to first for the out, but Fiore and the Expos exploded as they said the ball was hit off his foot, and it should have been a foul ball.

The truth is, that the dirt at Moulton is so worn at this point in the season, a chopper typically dies anyways, so it really was tough to tell but the Expos once again felt like a call was missed as the inning abruptly ended.

O’Brien had two strikeouts to get out of a leadoff Sencabaugh single in the bottom of the sixth. It was another example of what was really an impressive performance from “Dan-O” who gave his team plenty of chances to get back into it.

Fauci’s high-stress pitch count rose once again in the top of the seventh with a trip to the finals on the line.

Dave MacDonald walked to lead things off. O’Brien flew out, but Andrick put together a great at-bat, finally drawing a walk and putting runners at first and second for McNall, who bounced a grounder to Sencabaugh at third for a force out.

Steve Boughus popped up to end the game, finally allowing Fauci to catch a deep breath and celebrate the trip to the finals with his teammates.

The Loafers might be down at Moulton again tonight at 5:45 p.m., but only to scout game two of the Unknowns-Highlife series. The Highlife won game one 5-2. If the Life win, the finals will be set. If the Unknowns win, game three is scheduled for Thursday.