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Manny’s remains alive with 2-1 victory

It had been a tough season for Manny’s TV & Appliance starting pitcher Jeff Dixon until Tuesday night, when he showed why he’s been one of the Tri-County League’s best pitchers over the past 10 years.

Dixon fired a complete-game, four-hitter and seventh-seeded Manny’s staved off elimination and forced a Game 3 with a 2-1 victory over second-seeded Wilbraham Funeral Home in their best-of-three TCL playoff quarterfinals at Veterans Memorial Field in Greenfield.

Dixon, a two-time Wes Carr Award winner as the best pitcher in the TCL, had yet to win a game this season, going 0-5 with a 3.50 earned run average. That seemed like a distant memory Tuesday evening, as he shut out the Undertakers over the first six innings, then held off a seventh-inning comeback bid to get his first win.

“If you’re going to have only one win up to this point, this is a good time to have it,” Manny’s coach Lee Magee said. “This is definitely the best game he’s thrown. He’s been the victim of some bad defense at times this year, but some of the problems he’s had have been his own doing. Today, he was mighty sharp.”

Dixon struck out just one but did not walk a batter. He allowed just two hits through the first six innings, both coming in the fourth. Dixon retired the first nine hitters of the game, and finished the Wilbraham hitters in order in every inning other than the fourth and the seventh, when he hit a bump in the road trying to protect a 2-0 lead.

Greg Heineman led off the top of the seventh with a single and went to second on a passed ball. Ted Lerud then hit a ground ball that went off Manny’s third baseman Greg Vouros’ glove for the lone error of the game and put runners on the corners with nobody out. Brady Forrest drove in Wilbraham’s first run with an RBI single to right field, and he represented the go-ahead run on first base with no outs.

Dixon came back to get Mike Tranghese to fly out to right, then got Shawn Jiles to hit a ground ball to short, where Soren Pelz-Walsh managed to get the force at second. Jiles swiped second on defensive indifference with pinch-hitter Matt Warren at the plate, but Dixon got Warren to ground to first baseman Kyle Henry, who took the ball to the bag for the game’s final out.

“He’s pretty composed,” Magee said of Dixon’s seventh inning. “I’m not worried about him feeling pressure. If there is one thing you can note Jeff for, it’s his composure on the mound when things aren’t going well.”

The final score was a reversal of the Game 1 final on Monday night, a 2-1 Wilbraham win. Manny’s, which has not been eliminated from the TCL playoffs in a round earlier than the semifinals since 2001, broke open the scoreless game in the fifth with a pair of runs.

Dusty Mones got the rally going with a leadoff walk in the fifth and, in a rare display of Manny’s wheels, stole second base. That proved to be huge when Eric Libardoni followed with an infield single to put runners on the corners before Greg Vouros drove in Mones with the first run of the game on a sacrifice fly to center. Libardoni then showed off his wheels by swiping second on a delayed steal, and he scored when Kyle Henry blooped a single over second base.

“It was a 0-0 game and I felt like we had to try to make something happen,” Magee said of the two steals in the inning. “I know we haven’t used it a lot, but we do have a little speed.”

Jason Erhart suffered the tough-luck loss, allowing six hits and four walks over six innings, with four strikeouts.

The teams will wrap up the series at Farrell Field in Wilbraham tonight at 7.

“We’ve been in this position many times over the years, where we’ve had to win two to win the series,” Magee concluded. “Sometimes we battle hard and don’t do it, and sometimes we get it done. I was confident that if we played well we could win the game. When the playoffs started, I told the guys that if we played the way we did the last three games of the regular season, we were going to be to tough to beat.”

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