NORTH HAVEN – Defending Class L baseball champion Notre Dame-West Haven grabbed its first lead Saturday afternoon in the top of the fifth inning and appeared to seize all the accompanying momentum that went with it.
But against a veteran North Haven squad that had spent a good part of the 2017 campaign erasing deficits, Notre Dame’s lead lasted only a few pitches.
The seventh-seeded Indians, who boast 13 seniors on their roster, answered with three runs in the bottom of the frame and that was plenty for a 5-2 Class L quarterfinal win over their SCC rivals at Bob DeMayo Field.
North Haven will play in its third CIAC semifinal in five years against No. 30 Fitch-Groton on Tuesday at a site and time to be determined.
“We fight together. These are my brothers, we have 13 seniors and we’ve been playing together my whole life, basically,” said North Haven senior Dom Onofrio, who was 2-for-2 and drove in the tying run. “You look to your left and you look to your right and you know they’re going to be with you.”
North Haven (17-7), now the highest remaining seed in Class L, took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on a Steve Erbe RBI infield single.
But Notre Dame (13-10), who swept the regular season series from the Indians and won the last time these two met in the CIAC Tournament (2011 Class L quarterfinals), had the better opportunities through the first five innings, leaving eight on base and five in scoring position.
Even when they did score, they seemed to let the Indians of the hook.
In the third, North Haven committed two errors and the Green Knights had three hits, but scored only once as the Indians turned a double play and cut down an ND runner trying to score for the final out.
The Knights took a 2-1 lead in the fifth, but again stranded runners on second and third. Notre Dame also committed three errors leading to three unearned runs conceded.
“We didn’t capitalize on some of the mistakes that they made, but they capitalized on ours,” Notre Dame coach Don Martone said. “That’s the difference in the game. You can’t give anyone anything in the tournament, these teams are too good. We have a young team, so hopefully you younger guys will learn from this.”
Green Knights starter James Salemme faced the minimum nine batters from the second through fourth innings, but walked the first two hitters to start the fifth.
ND did get an out at third on an attempted sacrifice bunt attempt, but the next three batters – Matt Solomon, Onofrio, and Peyton Farina – all followed with hits and the Indians had a 4-2 lead that turned out to be enough.
“They beat us twice in the regular season and we played the worst baseball games of our careers against them, and I said, ‘What is it?’ when it started the same way today,” North Haven coach Bob DeMayo said.
“But we have a team that doesn’t quit. We were down twice already in the state tournament, bottom of the seventh in one (Platt-Meriden), bottom of the ninth (Avon) in the other. We’ve had a bunch of them like that this season. We just hang in there, and find a way.”
Brendan Clark pitched 3 ? innings of relief for his third victory (all out of the bullpen) in as many games in the Class L Tournament.
A win over the alma mater is always special for a coach, and a postseason victory is even more gratifying, so Bob DeMayo (Notre Dame-West Haven Class of 1950) certainly enjoyed his 883rd career win. DeMayo is now two wins away from his sixth CIAC state title in his 59th season at the helm.
“This one is different because I’m not sure if it’s my last time,” DeMayo said.
NORTH HAVEN 5, NOTRE DAME-WEST HAVEN 2
(at North Haven)
Notre Dame 001 010 0 — 2 8 3
North Haven 100 031 X — 5 7 2
James Salemme, Brendan Kirck (5) and Matt Martinello; Luca Lawrence, Brendan Clark (4) and Kevin Lucey. WP: Brendan Clark (8-1). LP: James Salemme (4-3).
Team records: Notre Dame-West Haven 13-10; North Haven 17-7.