STRATFORD—Colin Richards felt a little helpless at times this baseball season.
Considered the senior ace of the Bunnell High pitching staff, Richards was kept off the mound due to an early-season shoulder injury.
On Saturday morning, however, the crafty left-hander stood high on that hill and pitched the Bulldogs into the first round of the Class L state tournament.
Richards pitched seven innings of four-hit ball, not giving up an earned run while striking out six and leading the Bulldogs to a 6-1 win over the Lancers.
“I honestly didn’t know if I was going to be able to get back (and pitch) for the end of the season,” said Richards. “So, coming back and getting my first start on Senior Night and to pitch in this big game, as well, is just awesome. It feels great.”
Richards jammed his shoulder, injuring his rotator cuff and wasn’t able to start the season on the mound for Bunnell.
He did, however, remain a key part of the team, holding down first base and a spot in the Bulldogs’ lineup.
Once he was healthy, though, giving him the ball late in the season was a no-brainer for Bunnell coach Juan Lopez.
“I had extreme confidence in him,” Lopez said. “He’s been pitching well. Once he came back, I wanted to make sure we went slow, a couple of relief appearances, 20, 30 pitches. He threw well. If he’s around the plate, he’s effective.”
Richards started off slow as the Lancers took a 1-0 in the top of the first inning.
An error and a hit batsman turned into a second and third situation following a sacrifice bunt.
A ground out by Nathan Ouellette gave Bristol Eastern a 1-0 lead.
“The first two innings, I just had to get the jitters out,” Richards said. “Then, once I got command of my fastball, my change-up was working really good. Once I calmed myself down and realized it was just another game, I threw strikes and it went the right way.”
“Today, we survived that first inning just giving up one run,” Lopez added.
Bunnell stranded four runners against Lancer starter Trevor Mays before grabbing a lead in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Taylor Perry (3-for-4, 1 RBI) led off with a single and was sacrificed to second base, where he gave way to pinch runner Nick Gloria.
Cullen Roper then bunted for a single and stole second putting runners on second and third with one out.
“If the third baseman is playing back, I’m thinking just get the bunt down with a strike and with my speed, I’ll be able to beat it out,” Roper said. “That’s what I was looking for. In situations like that you just have to capitalize. We have to play small ball and execute.”
Jeremiah Abreu tied the game by plating Gloria with an infield hit that moved Roper to third and a safety squeeze by Ryan Nelson put the Bulldogs on top.
One inning later, Bunnell got itself some breathing room.
Justin Herrera led off with a single and moved to second when Richards was walked.
Perry delivered an RBI single, Pierce Barnum had a sacrifice fly and Roper, after showing bunt again, laced an RBI triple down the right field line for a 5-1 Bulldogs lead.
A lead-off double by Nelson to open the sixth helped the Bulldogs load the bases with Nelson scoring on a passed ball to account for the final run.
Roper finished the day 3-for-3 for Bunnell, who had 10 hits in the game. Herrera added two more.
Bunnell, now 9-12, will face defending Class L state champ Wethersfield, on Tuesday at 3:30 p.m.