By John Nash, Hearst Connecticut Newspaper Group
MIDDLETOWN >> Pitching and defense are often the winning formula for postseason success on the baseball diamond.
Middletown Post 75 had it on Saturday, while Norwalk Post 12 had just half the equation. Middletown, led by starting pitcher Scott Marks, shut out Norwalk 5-0 in an American Legion Baseball state tournament opener at Palmer Field.
Marks pitched five innings, giving up three hits, striking out three without a walking batter.
“I just tried to throw strikes,” said Marks, a product of Xavier High School. “I have a good defense behind me and Coach has been saying it all year, ‘Throw strikes and the defense will be make the plays.’ ”
A ball hit by Middletown’s Cal Pitruzzello that should have been a ruled a base hit (Norwalk’s infielder tried to bare-hand a soft roller for a spectacular play, but the official scorer in the booth called it an error), started the inning.
Suddenly a walk to Luke Garofalo and a bloop single by Tyler Popp loaded the bases. Tim Dickson gave Middletown a 1-0 lead by drawing a bases-loaded walk before Ben Alonzo made it 2-0 with an RBI fielder’s choice.
Another Norwalk error made it 3-0 and a single by Billy Egan pushed the advantage to 4-0, which in a wooden-bat league feels like a 10-run advantage.
“We have some team speed so we just wanted to put pressure on them with our legs,” Middletown coach Tim D’Aquila. “We want to put the ball in play.”
Both teams managed just three hits in the game, so errors and walks were key to the win for Middletown.
“It’s tough. That’s the name of the game at any level,” Norwalk coach Matt Harbilas said. “Especially in wooden-bat tournaments, you can’t just let guys get on base instead of making them two or three hits to score a run. You can’t give extra outs.”
Norwalk’s defense hurt an otherwise decent pitching performance by Isaac Keehn, who gave up three hits in 6 1/3 innings. He struck out five, but walked six.
Middletown — which got two hits from Egan — added a run in the fourth when Popp doubled, move to third on a groundout and scored on a wild pitch.
Hits for Norwalk came from Mike Pascarelli in the first and Mo Ortiz-Echeverria and Ryan Searles in the fourth, all singles.
ONCE, TWICE, THREE TIMES AN OPPONENT
For the third straight summer season, Middletown will meet Monroe in the next round.
“Two years ago, we beat them when they should have beaten us and last year they beat us when we should have beaten them,” D’Aquila said. “Third time is the rubber match, I guess. I’m guessing they’re sick of seeing me because I know I’m sick of seeing them.”
Middletown and Monroe will match up Sunday.
COUNT DRACULA, ANYONE?
A bit of controversy — which would have been even bigger if the game had been closer — emerged in the seventh inning when Norwalk’s Keehn was forced from the hill by what Norwalk claimed to be an errant pitch count.
With Middletown the home team, thus the “official book,” Keehn was pulled despite Norwalk having the right-hander for just 95 pitches.
The pitch count in Legion baseball is 105.
“I haven’t been wrong in my pitch count all season,” Harbilas said.
Keehn was replaced by David Broncati and Ryan Searles, who combined for a scoreless seventh.
MIDDLETOWN 5, NORWALK 0
Norwalk 000 000 0—0 3 3
Middletown 004 100 x—5 3 1
Records: Norwalk 14-13, Middletown 23-6. N—Isaac Keehn, David Broncati (7), Ryan Searles (7) and Tommy Benincaso; M—Scott Marks, Sebby Amenta (6), Sean Lenehan (7).