LEOMINSTER -- Tanyon Ventres outdueled Justin Watt, as the Clinton 76ers moved to within one game of the CNEBA championship with a 2-1 win over the Lunenburg Phillies on Wednesday night at Pin Cannavino Field at McLaughlin Park.
The 76ers lead the best-of-five series two games to one, and will look to close out the Phillies on Thursday in Game 4.
Ventres, a Becker College lefty, scattered five hits and struck out four. He was aided by some spectacular defensive work by second baseman Matt Bertochi, who made highlight-reel plays to rob three different Phillies of hits.
The Lunenburg offense has been in a funk throughout the series, managing just five runs and 14 hits through the first three games.
“They’re a good team and they have good pitchers. And I got outsmarted. There was one inning when I was playing checkers and I should have been playing chess,” said Lunenburg manager Joe Ruth, declining to go into anymore detail.
Watt (3-1, 0.97 ERA), who has been nursing a nagging neck injury, suffered his first loss of the season (3-1) despite allowing just one earned run on four hits, along with five strikeouts.
“We just completely wasted a great effort from Justin,” said Ruth. “He wasn’t sure he was even going to be able to pitch. During warmups, he said his neck was still a little sore. But he went out there and did a great job.”
Clinton drew first blood in the top of the second. Noah Milliard stroked a two-out single to right, then came all the way around to score when Ventres sliced a double down the right-field line. The relay throw from second baseman Ryan Lever nearly nailed Milliard at the plate, but a heard-first slide allowed the runner to sneak his hand in just before the tag from catcher Frank Yavorosky.
After that, Watt settled into a groove, retiring the next 10 batters he faced.
Lunenburg stranded two runners in the first, third and fourth innings, before finally breaking through against Ventres in the fifth. Sean Maki drew a leadoff walk, stole second and went to third on a sharp single by Lever. Jon Belliard followed with a blistering RBI single to right, scoring Maki to tie the game. Ventres looked to be on the ropes with two on and nobody out and the heart of the Phillies’ lineup coming up.
But the young southpaw managed to work his way out of the jam. He got cleanup hitter Brennan Cuddahy to ground into a fielder’s choice before striking out Pat Gilman for the second out. Then, with Yavorosky at the plate and runners at the corners, pinch-runner Drew Curran broke for second in a play that called for him to get caught in a rundown, allowing Lever to score. But Curran was tagged out before Lever had a chance to reach the plate.
Having escaped further damage, Clinton quickly reclaimed the lead in the top of the sixth. AJ Papandrea reached on a throwing error by shortstop Alex Heroux and was bunted to second by Kenan Kolanda. Two batters later Conor Gill bounced a single into left, scoring Papandrea with what would be the game-winning run.
Cuddahy, Yavorosky and Dave Mason had the other hits for Lunenburg.
The first pitch for Thursday’s Game 4 at Pin Cannavino Field is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Kevin O’Connor (3-0, 1.78 ERA) will get the ball for Lunenburg.