CROMWELL >> Cromwell coach Lew Pappariella was wary of a letdown after Saturday’s thrilling SLC championship win over East Hampton.
But his Panthers are a veteran club that knows what it takes in the postseason – Cromwell has been to the Class S finals in three of the past four years (winning it all in 2012).
They also have a pitcher who has been perfect this season.
Behind another strong outing from junior Tucker Lord and some timely hitting from Mike McNally (3-for-4), Jake Regula, Logan Lessard and Maceij Dawidowski, the No. 2 seed Panthers topped No. 31 Hale-Ray, 8-0, in the opening round of the Class S tourney Monday at Monnes Field.
“That was our big fear…just trying to guard against the letdown,” said Pappariella. “It was a really emotional win (Saturday) where everyone is just so fired up and then to have to come back I don’t know how many hours later but it feels like it just happened, and to avoid a letdown, that shows some maturity. I think it was a testament to the older guys and how we go to work every day.”
Lord, a crafty righthander who improved to 8-0, allowed just three hits in earning the complete game shutout. He also struck out 10 and walked two.
“He doesn’t get a lot of the press that some of the other guys have but the kid is 8-0 with an ERA under one,” said Pappariella. “He’s fantastic. We have a lot of confidence in him. He’s proven himself all year and I’m glad he showed people in a big spot that he’s a very good pitcher.”
The Noises were able to muster consecutive singles by Lukas Breton and Jon Comer in the second inning. But Breton was thrown out stealing by Panthers catcher Kevin Radziewicz and Lord ended the frame with a pair of strikeouts.
Jake Linares added a bunt single in the fourth for Hale-Ray.
“We faced Tucker in the beginning (of the year) and he had our number then too,” said Hale-Ray coach Rich Gable. “These guys have 21 wins. They’re a good ball club. We would have had to play our best game and maybe them come out and play a little bit flat in order for us to beat them.”
Cromwell (21-3) grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first against Noises lefthander Brian Johnson on a sacrifice fly from Lessard and Regula’s RBI single to center.
Lessard added an RBI double in the third and Dawidowski’s two out, two-run single later in the inning made it 6-0.
McNally extended the Panthers lead to 8-0 with an RBI single in the fifth.
Hale-Ray, which missed qualifying for states by one game a year ago, finishes 8-13.
“I’m real proud of these guys,” said Gable, who is in his 15th season. “We are a small program. We don’t have a lot of depth so when guys go down other guys are coming in and playing positions that they’re not comfortable with. So it’s been hard. So I’m really proud of these guys for sticking their nose in it and being able to muscle out eight wins.”
Cromwell hosts No. 15 Derby (13-8) today at 3:30 p.m.
“You pitch and play defense to give yourself a shot,” Pappariella added. “And then if you get some timely hits, that’s what you get. That’s kind of how we’re built so that’s what we’re going to hopefully rely on in the postseason.”