WEST HAVEN >> West Haven baseball coach Mike Anquillare is constantly reminding his team it is not how you start the season, but how you finish. Anquillare’s words couldn’t be any more encouraging to his team.
Riding the arm and bat of senior Matt Carter, West Haven defeated Hand 8-2 Friday night at Piurek Field.
It was the Westies’ fifth straight win and they head into the postseason with an 11-9 mark.
“I always say it is how you finish the season that we are more concerned with,” Anquillare said. “We always want to finish strong as we head to the tournament. We are playing with confidence and hopefully we can bring that to the state tournament.
“We are ready to go. We will have some scrimmages and get everything together. We like the way we have played to end the season.”
Since it didn’t qualify for the SCC tournament, West Haven will have at least nine days off prior to the state tournament.
While this gives the Westies a chance to rest their arms, it also puts a halt to a team that seemed to be putting it all together, having outscored its opponents 23-4 in the last five games of the regular season.
The formula has been simple for the Westies in the streak. As is always the case, good pitching and solid defense will keep a team in every game.
“We have won five in a row and they have all been about pitching and defense,” Anquillare said. “In the five games, we gave up a total of four runs. The defense has played very well. We made a couple of errors tonight, but nothing that really hurt us. The bats came around tonight, too.”
Friday night saw Carter lead the way. Carter was not only solid on the hill with seven strong innings, but he also had three hits and drove in four runs.
After allowing a run in the first inning after a leadoff walk to Daniel Gardner, who eventually came around to score, Carter settled in. The Tigers (10-10) managed only five hits off Carter, who struck out seven, walked three and allowed only one earned run.
“He had a great day,” Anquillare said. “I thought he really stepped up for us. He came back after throwing Monday and he gave us another good start. He has really pitched well for us. He is 5-2 with an earned run average in the 1s.”
West Haven set the tone early against Hand, which was the last team to beat the Westies (5-2 on May 13). West Haven scored four times in the first inning off Hand starter Reed Smith, before knocking him from the game with four more in the second for an 8-1 lead.
“Reed Smith has as much heart as anybody,” Hand coach Travis LaPointe said. “Unfortunately, he walked five guys in 1.2 innings. West Haven is too good of a team to do that to.”
Joe Sette got things started for the Westies, leading off the first inning with a walk, moving to second on Mike Brand’s sacrifice and third on a wild pitch.
Rick Balzano evened the game with a single to score Sette and, after walks to Nick Price and Jake Kelly, Carter singled to drive in Balzano and Price. Kelly scored on a passed ball to give West Haven a 4-1 lead after one inning.
West Haven pulled ahead for good in the second inning when Jesse Tejero led off with a single and Sette walked. With two outs and runners on second and third, Price reached on an error to score Tejero, Kelly walked and Carter doubled to score two more runs.
The rest of the game was about Carter on the hill. The Tigers picked up only five hits in the game, two by sophomore Ray Miklos, and added just one more run in the seventh inning.
The Tigers squandered a one-out double by Miklos and left runners on first and second in the third inning and only managed one more runner in the fifth on a West Haven error.
Hand chipped into the deficit in the seventh when Blake Egan doubled with one out and scored on Gardner’s two-out single. The Tigers, who were 3-7 after 10 games, won four of their final six games to close the regular season.
“We looked like how we looked in the beginning of the year,” LaPointe said. “Really, our pitching and defense has come such a long way. Our offense has been pretty consistent which has been nice to see.”
Price, Sette and Kelly each scored twice for the Westies, while Mike Savino also had a hit.
“One thing we have not proven we can do consistently is beat a top team,” LaPointe said. “That is going to be our focus going forward. We will be matched up against top pitchers. Facing someone like Matt Carter will make us better.”