MADISON – It may take a couple times through the batting order, but eventually the Hand offense is going to be lethal.
After being no-hit by East Haven’s Nate Furino for three innings, the Tigers exploded for seven runs in the fourth inning en route to a 9-3 Southern Connecticut Conference victory over the Yellowjackets Friday afternoon.
“That’s been our team’s identity all year,” Hand coach Travis LaPointe said. “We make adjustments second and third time through the lineup better than any other team I’ve been around. Sometimes we start slow, but we put up big innings in a hurry.”
East Haven took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third on a Luis Vega sacrifice fly.
Meanwhile, Furino got out of a bases loaded jam in the second that was partially of his own doing due to two walks. However, he was wild to start the fourth inning and sandwiched a pair of walks to Cam Fitzgerald and Will Reiner with a single by James DeGrasse to fill the bases with none out.
“He lost the strike zone and he started to go back to his fastball too much,” East Haven coach Butch Johnson said. “He got away from his curve which they had trouble with. He wasn’t missing by much, but he started to aim the ball.”
Furino’s day didn’t last much longer. After he walked Ian Butler to force in a run that tied the game at 1-1, Hand third baseman Paul Gagliardi hit a liner off Furino’s left foot for an infield hit that made it 2-1. It also ended Furino’s day as he limped off the field to the Yellowjackets’ dugout.
“He’s our No. 1 (pitcher) and we can’t have him go out of the game like that, but we did,” Johnson said.
Johnson went to Ryan Spano, who hasn’t pitched much lately, but will probably be East Haven’s No. 2 pitcher in the state tournament.
Hand got to Spano right away as Christian Bray singled in a run and then Tom Hobin followed with a two-run single to make it 5-1. Phoenix Billings added a run-scoring single and the seventh run of the inning scored on an error to break the game open.
It was more than enough runs for lefthander Jake Crawford, who allowed just one run and four hits in five innings of work. Crawford is 5-0 this spring on the mound.
“Crawford has been unbelievable all year,” LaPointe said. “His earned run average is below one.”
The Tigers tacked on runs in the fifth on a sacrifice fly by Ian Butler and on a wild pitch in the sixth.
East Haven collected a run in the sixth on a fielders’ choice and another in the seventh in a run-scoring single by Steve Mingione.
Hand played its third consecutive game without All-State rightfielder Ed Sweeney, who suffered a sprained left wrist while diving to make a catch against Sheehan on May 9. LaPointe said Sweeney is day to day and has yet to swing a bat.
“Hopefully, he can Sunday at practice and play Monday,” LaPointe said.
The Tigers (15-4) can clinch a home game in the SCC playoffs with a victory at West Haven Monday night. They could be as high as a second seed and have already clinched a tie with Amity for the SCC Hammonasset Division crown. The SCC playoffs begin Tuesday with the championship game Thursday night at West Haven.
East Haven completed its regular season with a 9-11 record.
“We lost five one-run games including a couple extra inning losses,” Johnson said. “We lose because of one big inning. We have to stay away from it and play smart. Hopefully, Furino can pitch in the state tournament. He can pitch with anyone.”
HAND 9, EAST HAVEN 3
EAST HAVEN 001 001 1 – 3 6 1
HAND 000 711 X – 9 9 3
Records: Hand, 15-4; East Haven, 9-11. Batteries: East Haven – Nate Furino, Ryan Spano (4), Jack Kabel (6) and Luis Vega. Hand – Jake Crawford, Chris Hartmann (6), Kyle Schaefer (7) and Will Reiner, Cam Fitzgerald (6). 2B: East Haven – Matt Lisko. Hand – Phoenix Billings. RBI – East Haven – Luis Vega, Steve Mingione, Frank Camera. Hand – Tom Hobin 2, Ian Butler 2, Paul Gagliardi, Phoenix Billings, Christian Bray. Winning pitcher: Crawford (5-0). Losing pitcher: Furino (4-3).