RJ Expos outslug the Wallingford Cardinals in GHTBL first round

MIDDLETOWN – The last time Jeff Massicotte faced the Wallingford Cardinals, the Expos hurler tossed the Meriden club’s first no-hitter since 2013.

Tuesday night at Palmer Field, Massicotte didn’t have his best stuff. But the Expos had his back.

The Expos rallied twice in a back-and-forth affair, eventually winning 9-7 in the first round of the Greater Hartford Twilight League playoffs.

Massicotte would allow 12 hits in grinding out six innings, as the No. 1 seed fell behind the eighth-seeded Cardinals 3-0 and 6-4 before scoring five times in the fourth inning to take the lead for good, 9-6.

The Expos also batted around in the third inning in scoring four runs.

With the win, the Expos advanced in the double-elimination playoffs to Wednesday’s winner’s-bracket game against either Rainbow Graphics or People’s Bank, which were still playing their first-round game at the Record-Journal’s press time.

The Expos will be back in action at Palmer Field at 8 pm

The Expos (19-6) shared the GHTL regular-season title with the East Hartford Jets. It was the Meriden club’s second regular-season title in four years. In 2019, however, the Expos went 0-2 in the postseason after winning the regular-season title.

“You can’t turn you back on any team in this league, especially in the playoffs,” said Expos player/manager Charlie Hesseltine, whose club went 3-0 against Wallingford in the regular season.

“Hats off to my team for not getting down,” added Hesseltine. “You can’t win without scoring runs. We kept our heads in the game and kept chugging along with the bats.”

“Winning this first game is huge,” continued Hesseltine. “Staying in the winner’s bracket is where you want to be. You want to be able to afford a loss in the championship game.”

After taking a 4-3 lead, the Expos had to rally again in the fourth inning after falling behind 6-4.

The Expos took the lead in the fourth inning, 7-6, when Wallingford reliever Brendan O’Connell hit Kyle Hartenstein with the bases loaded. Another Expo scored on a sacrifice fly by Shawn Remillard, and Will Kszywanos then padded the Meriden squad’s lead by dumping a single into left field.

Earlier in the inning, the Expos tied the game 6-6 on back-to-back singles by Jason Sullivan and AJ Hendrickson.

Wallingford, however, wouldn’t go away and proceeded to leave the bases loaded in the fifth inning after getting within 9-7 on Evan Wilkinson’s sixth RBI of the night.

Wilkinson had given Wallingford (7-19) a 6-4 lead in the fourth inning with a bases-loaded double. The left-fielder finished the night a triple short of hitting for the cycle, going 4-for-5 and giving the Cardinals a 3-0 lead with a two-run home run in the third inning.

“We didn’t get the result we wanted, but coming in as the 8th seed and putting up a fight like that sends a message,” Wilkinson said. “We’ll come back tomorrow and look to put up a win. ,

Wallingford plays the loser of the Rainbow Graphic-People’s Bank game at 8 pm at East Hartford’s McKenna Field.

After going a surprising six innings, Massicotte was relieved by Hesseltine, who allowed Wilkinson’s fourth hit of the game but struck out the side in the seventh inning.

“It was an off day for me,” admitted Massicotte. “But I knew at some point we’d pick up the bats and put some runs together, so I was expecting that. I didn’t know how long I’d go, but I just kept going.

“They picked it up and I was able to go as long as I did and save our arms for the rest of the week,” added Massicotte.

“I kept asking him (if he wanted to come out) but he was a bulldog out there,” Hesseltine said. “I put my trust in him and he battled. He saved our pitchers (for later in the tournament).”

Jason Sullivan’s slow roller to third base tied the game 3-3 when Malcolm Kinder threw wildly to first base. Brenden O’Connell then walked in the go-ahead run to put the Expos up 4-3.

Wallingford came right back in the fourth inning to regain the lead 6-4 on a bases-loaded double by Wilkinson. An error and two infield singles loaded the bases for Wilkinson.

“We battled and took the lead, and against these guys you know you have to score,” Wallingford coach Jeff DeMaio said. “And what I though was terrific was after they came back, we took the lead again.”

“But they are tough. They put a lot of pressure on you,” DeMaio added.

Massicotte’s streak of hitless innings against Wallingford ended when his second pitch Tuesday was hit over the left fielder’s head for a double. And the Cardinals’ hits just kept coming, highlighted by Wilkinson’s two-run home run in the third inning.

The Cardinals took a 3-0 lead in the third inning on Wilkinson’s two-run homer. Wilkinson drove a Massicotte fast ball over the left field fence. Owen Pincince had singled ahead of Wilkinson.

Wallingford took advantage of an extra strike in the first inning, scoring the game’s first run on Sam DeMaio’s single to take a 1-0 lead. Zach Pincince walked ahead of DeMaio with two outs after taking what should have been strike three. But the umpire lost track of the count.

Tyler Lyons started the rally by hitting Massicotte’s second pitch hit over left fielder for a double. Lyons, however, was thrown out at home on a nice place by third baseman Jason Sullivan.

The Expos stranded a runner at third base trying to tie the game in the second inning when Kszywanos lined out to third to end the inning.

Wallingford shortstop DeMaio and right fielder Pincince each made highlight plays in the field. DeMaio limited the damage in the third inning with an inning-ending play off a deflected ground ball, while Pincince robbed Remillard of extra bases with a running catch in the sixth inning.

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