Pictured: The Blue Devils mob Kolby Pascarelli after he scored the winning run in the ninth inning Tuesday against Cromwell. (Photo by Tammy Clancy)
By Marc Silvestrini
DURHAM — Kolby Pascarelli has won plenty of games for Coginchaug over the past few years with his talented left arm and his big bat. On Tuesday, the Blue Devil senior won a game with his eyes, his legs and his baseball smarts.
Pascarelli scored the only run of the game in the last of the ninth to give top seed Coginchaug a 1-0 win over No. 4 Cromwell and a ticket to the Shoreline Conference championship game Friday against Valley Regional (Palmer Field, 7pm).
No. 3 seed Valley beat No. 7 Morgan 9-0 Tuesday in the tournament’s other semifinal game behind the two-hit pitching of starter Ryan Ellison.
Pascarelli led off the bottom of the ninth by drawing a walk against Ian Mihalopoulos, Cromwell’s second pitcher of the game. After moving to second on a grounder to third by Chris Carafeno, which resulted in the second out of the inning, he noticed Cromwell catcher Brian Radziewicz giving a four-finger signal to Mihalopoulos.
Pascarelli said the flapping sign is the “universal” indication of a changeup, a pitch that is delivered at a lower rate of speed than the pitcher’s other offerings, thus taking a couple of extra fractions of a second to get to the catcher’s mitt.
With two outs in the inning and having seen the sign for a changeup, Pascarelli opted to take off for third, knowing that his chances of successfully stealing the bag would be improved by the fact that the pitcher was about to throw a slower pitch.
Not only did Pascarelli beat Radziewicz’s throw to third, but when the ball sailed over the head of third baseman Elias DeLeon, he immediately popped up from his slide and raced home with the game-winning run.
“He’s a smart baseball player, he saw that a changeup was coming so he took off,” Coginchaug coach Mark Basil said, adding that Pascarelli almost always has a green light to attempt a steal because he “knows the game” so well.
“I saw that they were going to throw an off-speed pitch, so I just decided to take advantage of the opportunity,” Pascarelli said.
Pascarelli, one of the state’s top pitchers in his own right, was also quick to note that Coginchaug starter Alex Mach was “absolutely terrific today.”
“He did a great job out there,” Pascarelli said. “I think that was one of the best games anyone’s thrown for us all year.”
Mach, along with Cromwell starter Justin Valentin, matched up Tuesday in what turned out to be a spectacular, exciting pitching duel.
Mach, a senior right-hander, allowed two hits and just four baserunners in eight innings of work, striking out 15 and walking none.
Cromwell’s entire offense against Mach consisted of a Tino Gagliardi single in the first, Jared Semper reaching first base in the fifth when a third strike got past Coginchaug catcher Mike Garofalo (Garofalo immediately made up for the passed ball by nailing Semper on an attempted steal of second), and a hit batsman (Gagliardi) followed by a Zach Zajac single in the seventh.
Valentin, meanwhile, was just as effective in keeping the powerful Blue Devils lineup off the scoreboard. The senior right-hander surrendered four hits and no runs in seven innings, striking out three and walking two.
“He gave us everything we could have asked for,” Cromwell coach Christian Budzik said. “We had a few chances but we could never get that one big hit.”
When asked to assess Mach’s performance, Budzik was quick to tip his cap.
“He was just great today,” Budzik said. “He was dominant. That’s about the best pitching we’ve seen against us all year.”
Mach, a senior who will pitch at UConn-Avery Point next spring, said he had good command of each of his four pitches — fastball, slider, changeup and two-seam fastball — on the day but that his slider was “especially” effective.
“I really felt great today, everything was working,” he said. “I knew we had lost to this team earlier in the season so beating them today felt kind of special.”
Mach also gave credit to teammate and fellow pitcher Alex Tawa, who he said served as his unofficial pitching coach whose advice and observations helped him navigate his way through the Cromwell lineup.
Mach was relieved in the top of the ninth by Connor Willett, who got into immediate trouble when he surrendered a leadoff double to Malcolm Mention. With runners at second and third and no one out, Willett bore down and retired two dangerous hitters, Gagliardi and Zajac, in a row before walking DeLeon to load the bases.
Willett, who was credited with the win, then ended Cromwell’s best chance of the day to get on the board when he induced Radziewicz to bounce to third.
Mihalopoulos, who surrendered the game’s only run in 1 2/3 innings of work, took the loss.
The Blue Devils (17-3), who outhit the Panthers 4-3, got a pair of hits from Pascarelli and singles from Carafeno and Garofalo. Gagliardi, Zajac and Mention collected Cromwell’s three hits.
Cromwell (14-6) will next play in the CIAC Class S tournament.
Crom 000 000 000–0 3 1
Cog 000 000 001–1 4 0
Batteries: Crom–Valentin, Mihalopoulos (8) and Radziewicz; Cog–Mach, Willett (9) and Garofalo. WP: Willett; LP: Mihalopoulos. 2B: Crom–Mention.
Valley Regional 9, Morgan 0
M 000 000 0–0 2 1
VR 002 025 x–9 9 0
Highlights: Ryan Ellison allowed 2 hits in 6 innings and struck out 10, and drew Salbinski powered the Warriors’ offense with 2 hits and 4 RBIs. Colin Carver hit a 2-run home run in the fifth and finished 2 for 4 with 3 RBIs, and Sam Hutchinson drove in 2 runs. Valley is playing in its first Shoreline final since a runner-up finish in 2016.