BENNINGTON — Before Sunday’s game between the Russian National Team and the Bennington Bombers, players from each side exchanged gifts. The Bombers gave the Russians T-shirts and the Russians gave the Bombers Moscow keychains.
But the Russians walked out of town with a little something extra in their bags – a win.
Though technically a meaningless exhibition, Team Russia won the hard-fought first-ever meeting of the two teams by the final score of 8-5, taking advantage of several Bomber miscues throughout the afternoon.
Andrey Bolotin scored on a wild pitch from third base to break a 2-2 tie in the top of the second and Team Russia took a commanding 5-2 lead in the top of the fifth to leave the Americans in their rear-view.
Vacheslav Vasiliev got the fifth inning started with a sharp single to short, which took a wild hop at the edge of the infield grass over the head of Zach Halloran. Andrey Kripochin followed with a hard grounder to the right side of the infield that Bombers first baseman Tristan Hobbes couldn’t handle. Artur Donetskiy advanced Kripochin to third and scored Vasiliev with a long sac fly to right and Bolotin smoked a single up the middle for a two-out RBI and a 5-2 Russian lead.
The Russians scored their first two runs on similar plays; Sergey Soloviev reached on an error by Halloran in the first inning, stole second and was driven in by an Artemiy Artoamonov single up the middle.
Artoamonov went to second base on the ensuing throw home and then scored on another error by Halloran on a hard hit ball by Vasiliev.
Bennington rebounded in the bottom half of the inning with a leadoff infield single by Sean Brown. Brown stole second and was driven home on a deep fly ball by Kyle LaHonta, who later scored to tie the game at 2 runs apiece when Aaron Zrenda hit a double to left field, missing a home run by just a few feet.
Bennington went down in order in the fifth and sixth, finally striking back in the bottom of the seventh when starting pitcher Alexander Sisyuk was replaced by Pavel Akishev. Adam Donato hit a one-out single to left, stole second and was driven in by a Ken Jacobi standup triple to make it a 5-3 ballgame.
Sean Brown came in to pitch Bennington’s eighth, promptly helping the Russians rebuild their lead with one-out walks to Oleg Semenov and Alexander Nizov. Soloviev doubled to drive in Semenov and Nizov scored on a wild pitch to make it 7-3 Russia. Artoamonov hit a sac fly to center to score Soloviev and Russia took an 8-3 lead.
Adam Donato came on to pitch Bennington’s ninth, and after allowing a leadoff walk to Alexander Toropov, buckled down to retire Bolotin, Semenov and Nizov in order.
Halloran gave the Bomber faithful a flash of hope to start the bottom of the ninth with a leadoff homer over the right field fence to make it 8-4. Donato then drew a walk and Craig Binkiewicz drove a single to left to put runners on the corners.
Jacobi drove a hard single to right that scored Donato, but Binkiewicz was nailed at the plate for Bennington’s first out.
“If it were a league game, I might have played it safe,” said Bombers manager Charlie Barfelz, who used all but two men on his roster – Phil Mabey and Zach Willimott. “But this was a fun game and Binkiewicz is our fastest guy, so I gave it a go. It took a perfect throw to get him.”
The play at the plate seemed to re-energize Akishev, who struck out John McFadden and got Chris Brown to fly out to center to end the game.
Despite winding up on the wrong end of the score once again, Bennington catcher Paul Panik said the team wasn’t worried about winning or losing, but being a gracious host to a team that traveled a long way to be there.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime game,” Panik said, noting the fact that Bennington used a new pitcher in almost every inning. “So coach made sure everyone got to play. It was really a pleasure to get to play them.”
The Bombers (10-22) are back in league action this afternoon with a double header against Little Falls, N.Y. beginning at 3 p.m.