WINSTED >> No. 14 seed Northwestern scored seven runs in the first two innings of a Class M Baseball Quarterfinal and never faltered on the way to an 11-2 rout of No. 27 Stonington Saturday afternoon at Northwestern High School.
“They swung the bats very, very well,” said Stonington Coach Bob Cahoone. “Our starting pitcher was running on fumes. Everything he left up, they crushed.”
The Bears, 12-11 from a tough Eastern Connecticut Conference, hoped to be a Cinderella team after gutsy wins over Valley Regional and Rockville (10 innings) in the first two rounds.
“We have to hit,” Cahoone said before Saturday’s game began.
Stonington made a good start. Kevin Ferrer and Billy Keane (3-for-4), the first two batters, hit singles through the gaps. Keane’s hit came on a hit-and-run that put Ferrer on third base.
The Highlanders turned a double play on the next batter, but Ferrer came home for a 1-0 lead.
It was the high point of the game for the Bears.
With one out in the bottom of the inning, Stonington left-hander Sam Foster walked Bryce Ramsey, then left two pitches up for the next two Highlanders.
Tony Pucino (2-for-2, double, triple, 4 RBI, 2 runs) crushed the first one for an RBI double.
Joe Colombie (2-for-4, double, 2 RBI, 2 runs) smashed the second one for Northwestern’s second RBI double in a row.
Colombie went to third on a wild pitch, scoring on an RBI ground-out by Lukas Gryniuk (2-for4, 3 RBI).
At 3-1, the clock already sounded like midnight on Stonington’s Cinderella hopes.
Next inning, the glass slipper was gone for good.
Connor LaBreck (2-for-4) started a one-out Highlander charge that blew through a Stonington error, a walk and hits by Pucino (two-run triple), Colombie (RBI single) and Gryniuk (RBI double) for four more Northwestern runs.
“He was leaving it right down the middle,” said Pucino, who hit three blasts that would have cleared most fences.
Part of the Northwestern charm is there is no reachable fence.
“It’s good because we’re not swinging for a fence,” Pucino said.
“Following Tony in the lineup is great because seeing him do it gets my confidence up,” said Colombie.
The second inning ended Foster’s day.
Meanwhile, armed with a heady lead, Northwestern starter Jayson Reola (5.2 innings, 1 earned run, 7 hits, 2 strikeouts, 3 walks) concentrated on throwing strikes on a hot day.
“I had to make sure I drank as much water as I could,” he said. “I was good (with the heat) the whole time.”
An error scored Stonington’s Keane after a leadoff single in the third inning, but most of the time, Northwestern’s defense was right where Reola wanted them to be.
“We hit it right at them,” Coach Cahoone said.
Sometimes the Bears did; more often, the Highlanders got to where the ball was.
Pucino sure-handed a screaming low liner for an out in the third inning. The Highlanders turned their second double play in the seventh.
Northwestern came out of a much tougher-than-usual Berkshire League for a co-championship in the final regular-season game.
“We hit a mid-season slump because we were trying too hard,” said Co-Coach Kevin Nelligan. “Everybody (in the BL) had a strong pitcher.”
Nevertheless, the Highlander program had a legacy to live up to.
“We expect to do well at this time of year,” said Colombie. “We grew up watching the teams before us and we don’t want to do anything less.”
By the fifth inning, against relief pitcher Adam Gibbs, the Highlanders were ready to do more again.
Hits by Devin Warren (2-for-4, run), Garrett Healey (RBI, 2 runs), Ramsey and Gryniuk, along with the longest non-homer of the day by Pucino (sac fly on a nice catch by Bears center fielder Sean Crowley) and an error delivered the game’s final four runs.
Reola stayed strong through the first two outs in the sixth inning. Gryniuk took over the mound for the final four outs.
Northwestern, 16-7, plays at Berlin’s Sage Park next Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. in a Class M semifinal game against No. 15 Sheehan-Wallingford, 16-7.
No. 14 Northwestern 11,
No. 27 Stonington 2
At Northwestern High School
Stonington 101 000 0 – 2 8 3
Northwestern 340 040 X – 11 13 3
WP: Jayson Reola. LP: Sam Foster. 3B: NW – Tony Pucino. 2B: NW – Pucino; Joe Colombie; Lukas Gryniuk.
Records: Stonington 12-11; Northwestern 16-7.