MERIDEN — It’s been said that in trilogies, all bets are off, and Friday night’s CT Elite Baseball Association game between Meriden and Cheshire at Legion Field was no exception.
The fans were raucous, the players were chatty and the game was tense.
And, in the end, Meriden had a 3-1 victory that secured the season series with Cheshire and strengthened its hold on second place in Division I.
In the early going, though, it was rocky. Meriden pitcher John Vumback walked three batters and Ethan Rosenthal poked a RBI single through the left side to put Cheshire up 1-0 in the top of the first.
From there, Vumback shut Cheshire down, starting with three strikeouts in the second inning.
“I get in the zone and do what I do,” said Vumback. “I go out there trying to throw strikes and keep it away from them.”
Meriden took the lead in the bottom of the third. Michael Duffy started the inning by reaching base on a throwing error.
Cheshire starter Matt Cahill struck out a pair of Meriden batters and seemed to have the threat quelled.
That is, until Meriden’s reliable hitter, Owen Papciak, found grass in center field to plate two runs for a 2-1 lead.
Andrew McCarty was able to add another run for Meriden in the bottom of the fifth with a single to right field that brought home Peyton Thiel.
The game ultimately came down to pitching in a tightly contested battle.
Cahill struck out 10 batters through the five innings he pitched. He walked three and conceded four hits.
Vumback went six innings strong, punching out nine batters, walking four and allowing only three hits in the winning effort.
Vumback handed the ball over to Evan Avery in the top of the seventh and the reliever closed it out in 1-2-3 fashion.
“The boys battled today,” said Mark Kszywanos, who was filling in for Meriden head coach Doug Wedge. “We had a rough first inning, but we fought back and were outstanding on defense.”
Papciak led Meriden in hitting with two hits and the two RBIs. He also made a pair of adept defensive plays.
Cheshire was led by Rosenthal, who batted in their lone run.
Meriden, which had lost to Cheshire 4-2 on Tuesday at Bartlem Park, came away from Friday’s game at 11-6. Cheshire slipped to 9-7.
“I’d face them every day if we could; those are the teams you want to play,” said Kszywanos. “You want to play a good team everyday. That’s how you get better and progress.”
Meriden will look to remain undefeated at home Sunday in a doubleheader against Simsbury that starts at 3 p.m.
Simsbury comes to Legion Field with a 4-11 record, though at this stage in the season, every game is crucial as Meriden looks to lock up a spot in the postseason. Only two teams from each of the CTEBA’s four divisions will advance to the state tournament.
Berlin leads Division I by 2½ games at 14-4. Second-place Meriden, at 11-6, is a half-game ahead of West Hartford (10-6).
Cheshire (9-7) is still alive in fourth place, but can ill afford another loss. Only four games remain in the regular season.
Cheshire goes down the homestretch in West Hartford on Sunday, home Monday against Newington, at Avon on Wednesday and back home Thursday against Bristol.
Meriden, after Sunday’s twinbill with Simsbury, hosts Avon on Tuesday and finishes Wednesday at Muzzy Field vs. Bristol.
“We always come to the field expecting to win,” said Kszywanos. “Every team in this league is a tough out.”