WILLIMANTIC — Joe Mastroianni is regarded by his teammates and coaches as a big-game pitcher.
He certainly lived up to that reputation Monday, twirling a four-hit shutout to propel Max Sinoway of North Haven past Simsbury 3-0 in the Little League state tournament at Lower Legion Field.
“We definitely expected it,” coach Angelo Romano said. “He’s been solid through the whole postseason. I didn’t expect anything less, to be honest with you. If they started hitting him, I would’ve been surprised.”
Mastroianni stymied Simsbury, allowing two hits through the first five innings. Simsbury threatened in the sixth by bringing the tying run to the plate, but Mastroianni closed out his dominant start with a strikeout. The right-hander finished with two punchouts and one walk.
“I expected to do good,” Mastroianni said. “I did good today.”
Nate Acevedo supplied his pitcher with an early cushion, socking a two-run homer to right-center field for a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Mastroianni added an insurance run in the third with an infield single, scoring Jaden Wells.
“I was in a bit of a slump before,” Acevedo said. “I was very excited to hit a home run. It was a big spot.”
Max Sinoway didn’t do much else against Simsbury right-hander Lucas Gifford, who scattered five hits and struck out seven. However, Acevedo’s blast was enough to send the all-stars from North Haven into the state finals. They’ll square off against Madison Tuesday, needing two wins to advance to the New England Regional.
“Hey, we just won two in a row, so we could do it,” Romano said. “The way we’ve been playing, as long as the bats wake up a little bit more than they have been, we’ve got a chance at this. We’ve got a little history with Madison, when we played them in travel. They’re a great program, a great team.”
Mastroianni shared his coach’s confidence shortly after his 84-pitch masterpiece.
“They’re good,” he said. “They’ve got good players, but I think we’re better.”
At this point, Mastroianni and Co. feel like anything’s possible. It had been 52 years since the program won its district. Now, Max Sinoway is on the doorstep of making more history after surviving two straight elimination games.
Simsbury had opened the tournament on the right foot, edging Max Sinoway 5-4 in eight innings over the weekend. However, the result was different this time around thanks to Mastroianni’s brilliant performance, timely hitting, and some dazzling defense.
“We played great defense,” Romano said. “I can’t stress the defense (enough). I was always taught that pitching and defense wins games in any team sport.”