BRISTOL — When Dillon Higgins arrived at Notre Dame-Fairfield four years ago, he arrived with a single goal: win a state championship.
His freshman year, the Lancers fell in the first round. The last two years ND’s season ended in the second round. With a chance to reach the semifinals for the first time, Higgins made sure the Lancers would keep his dream alive for at least one more game.
The senior right-hander pitched a complete game, allowing just six hits and one run, while striking out five — he also banged out a two-RBI double — as Notre Dame moved into the Class S semifinals with a dominating 7-1 win over St. Paul Saturday afternoon at the Falcons’ field.
“This is the first time in four years we’ve gotten this far, this is what I wanted ever since I came to Notre Dame, this is why I came here,” Higgins said. “We’re not there yet, but this means a lot, we’re getting closer.”
With the victory, Notre Dame-Fairfield improves to 18-7 and will face No. 2 seed Holy Cross-Waterbury, a 3-0 winner over Immaculate on Tuesday at a site and time to be determined. St. Paul — the 2016 Class S state champion — ends with a 19-6 record.
“We had a great year,” Falcons coach Victor Rinaldi said. “Nineteen wins is nothing to be upset about … making the quarterfinals for the fourth straight year, it’s a big accomplishment.”
After a lackluster 11-2 loss in the SWC semifinals to Newtown, something has clicked inside of the Lancers. They scored six runs in a shutout of Gilbert, added 11 against Old Lyme and tossed a seven-spot against St. Paul, as seven of the nine starters hit safely.
“We’re just focusing on seeing where it’s pitched and driving it hard.
“We’re pretty confident,” said ND shortstop Tyler Romano, who went 3 for 5 with two runs scored and two RBI. “We’ve played some pretty good schools, bigger schools in our conference, so playing in Class S, we’re not scared of anyone.”
ND took a 2-0 lead in the third thanks to some clutch two-out hitting. Romano singled with one out and stole second. After Higgins popped out, Jacob Rainey doubled him home and Pete Minore singled home Rainey.
In the fourth, Jacob Tierney walked with one out and with two outs, Austin Allen singled to put runners and first and second. Romano singled home a run to make it 3-0 and Higgins doubled home two more to make it 5-0 before Minore knocked in his second RBI with a single.
“Our lineup has been fantastic from top to bottom, we don’t chase a lot and we go after our pitches,” Mazzucco said. “Our approach at the plate is better than ever and it doesn’t hurt that we can score runs with two outs no problem.”
Higgins survived a hiccup in the fourth as St. Paul’s loaded the bases on three straight singles and scored when Higgins walked home a run with one out, but the Lancers stopped the bleeding when Higgins struck out the next batter and then got a force play to end the inning.
“In a couple of those innings we just seemed to be lacking that big hit to get back into the game,” St. Paul coach Victor Rinaldi said. “We’ve been fortunate all season with the middle of our order, they’ve really carried us and they did it again today but the bottom of the order, they didn’t get the job done.”
A Tierney double and another RBI single from Romano made it 7-1 in the fifth and that was more than enough for Higgins and the Lancers to finish it out.
“I was locating my fastball really well and when you do that, it opens up the off-speed pitch, makes it that much harder to,” Higgins said. “I just worked on staying down in the zone and then, that made it a lot easier to mix in my breaking ball.”
“Their starting pitcher did a good job of hitting his spots, getting ahead early and keeping us off balance,” Rinaldi said. “They made us pay, they outhit us and they out played us. They were the better team today.”
“He’s been great for us. He goes out there all the time and just throws strikes. I don’t think any team in this tournament can hit him.” ND’s Tyler Romano on pitcher Dillon Higgins
PLAYER OF THE GAME
ND’s Tyler Romano. The junior went 3 for 5 at the plate, scored twice and drove home two.
ND-FAIRFIELD 7, ST. PAUL 1
ND-FAIRFIELD002 410 0 — 7 11 0
ST. PAUL’S000 100 0 — 1 6 1
Records: ND-Fairfield (18-7), St. Paul’s (19-6)
Batteries: ND-F — Dillon Higgins (W) and Jacob Rainey; STP — Ethan Rembish (L), Dylan Gagnon (4), Walker Sharp (5) and Chris Mills