WINSTED — Northwestern and Shepaug are Berkshire League baseball co-champions.
In an outcome that might never seem more appropriate than this year’s shared title, Northwestern (16-3; 16-2 BL) completed a season split between the league’s two best teams with a 4-2 win over the Spartans (16-4; 16-2 BL) at Northwestern High School Tuesday afternoon.
Tuesday’s game had the same riveting balance as Shepaug’s 2-1 win a month ago in Washington Depot — featuring the same two starting aces on the mound, Northwestern’s Drew Warren and Shepaug’s Dominic Perachi.
Since then, each team suffered one other league loss — Shepaug in a 1-0 game against Housatonic, Northwestern lost 3-1 last Friday to Wamogo.
“I think (Friday’s loss) helped us stay more focused today,” said Highlander Levi Delaney, whose defense at second base was an important part of Warren’s support in a game decided by the smallest of missteps. “We came out with a chip on our shoulder.”
At Shepaug Valley, that sort of chip comes pre-ingrained. This year’s defending league champion has now claimed all or part of 29 BL titles since 1955.
The result on Tuesday started with an almost identical line for the two starters. Warren: 7 innings, 2 earned runs, 5 hits, 7 strikeouts, 3 walks; Perachi: 4.2 innings, 3 earned runs, 4 hits, 7 strikeouts, 4 walks, 2 hit batters.
“It was two really good pitchers going at it,” Spartans coach Scott Werkhoven said. “Neither offense had an easy day.”
In such a game, little missteps and timing grow large.
Northwestern’s Joe Grantmeyer drew a leadoff walk in the second inning, then scored when teammates Alberto Cantalini, Mike Bobinski (2-for-2), and Garrett Austin (RBI) bunched together three of the Highlanders’ four hits off Perachi.
Even then, with the bases loaded, no outs, the tall left-hander escaped with just one more Highlander run on a sacrifice fly by Spencer Green after a fielder’s choice at home and a line drive to first base.
“We just wanted to be in a position to win — that’s all we could ask,” Northwestern coach Kevin Nelligan said.
Next inning, a leadoff Spartan error and a walk put Delaney and Warren on second and first with that chance.
A wild pitch moved them to second and third, in position for a sacrifice fly to right field by Cantalini to score Delaney while sending Warren to third.
Bobinski’s second hit of the day brought Warren home for a 4-0 lead.
Then the Spartans proved they could also score on the smallest of threads.
Ethan Hibbard started the fourth inning with a double to deep center field. A wild pitch got him to third. Jack Schneider’s ground out to second sent him home.
A leadoff walk to Mike McCluskey in the top of the fifth turned into another Spartan run on a hit by Owen Hibbard and a wild pitch.
After that, pitching and spectacular defense ruled the game.
In the bottom of the fifth, Shepaug reliever Chance Dutcher (1.1 innings, 1 hit) came in for the final out with the bases loaded on two walks and a hit batter.
Jack Pesce saved at least two runs, laying out in an incredible dive to catch a blast to right field by Jeff Dombrowski.
Northwestern shortstop Bobinski had the same kind of play in the top of the sixth, soaring to his left in what seemed like slow motion to catch a one-out drive by Jack Kennedy that ended up part of a one-two-three inning for Warren.
“These are two good teams,” Werkhoven said. “Neither of them got here by not making plays.”
Marching out for the final inning, Warren had just 22 pitches left in the CIAC’s 110-pitch limit. Delaney made a great play at second for the first out; Garrett Austin hauled in a fly to center for the second; Warren had just one pitch left in the rule that allows a pitcher to complete the final at-bat in his count.
“I had no idea,” Warren said. “I just went out there and tried to throw strikes.”
His final pitch produced a fly ball to Noah McDonald in right field for the final out.
Shepaug moves on to next week’s Class S state tournament, where it reached last year’s semifinals.
Northwestern plays its final regular-season game today at CCC member Avon before the Class M state tournament. Last year, the Highlanders lost in the second round to eventual state champion Wolcott.