Pictured: H-K senior Alec Erskine, who pitched a nifty 2-hitter Monday and fanned 14 of the 16 batters he faced in five innings, also was a big part of the Cougar offense with two hits, two runs scored and two RBIs.
By Marc Silvestrini
HIGGANUM — The bad news for Haddam-Killingworth starter Alec Erskine was that two-thirds of his repertoire – his changeup and his curve – were not as sharp as usual Tuesday as he prepared to face Grasso Tech in the opening round of the CIAC Class M tournament.
The good news was that his fastball was working extremely well. In fact, it was overpowering.
The best news was that it really didn’t matter what pitches were and were not working at an optimum level because the Groton-based Eagles never came close to scoring off the senior right-hander, who pitched the Cougars into the second round on the heels of a 12-0 win.
The Cougars will face Rockville, a 2-1 winner over Plainville, on the road in the tournament’s second round on Wednesday.
“He (Erskine) didn’t have complete control of his curve and change-up today, bur he was 100 percent with his fastball,” said Nick Glynn, Erskine’s catcher. “The most important thing was he was throwing it for strikes. When you can throw strikes, especially at the high school level, you’re going to get outs.”
Erskine, now 6-1 on the season, surrendered two hits and fanned 14 of the 16 batters he faced through his five innings of work. With an 8-0 lead, he gave way in the top of the sixth to junior Lucas Kamoen, who retired all six Eagle batters he faced.
“His curve today just didn’t have the same snap it has when he’s really throwing well,” H-K coach Mark Brookes said. “But his fastball was great, and his location was very good. I really liked his overall performance.”
Brookes was also pleased with his offense, which pounded out nine hits against a trio of Eagle pitchers while drawing 11 bases on balls, and his defense, which committed no errors.
“I thought it was a fairly good performance today,” he said. “We did what we were expected to do.”
After Erskine struck out the side in the first, the Cougars nicked Tech starter Randy Vidal for a run in their half of the inning. Erskine led off with a hard single to center and sophomore shortstop Callen Powers hit a bullet to left to put Cougars at first and third with no one out. A walk to Cavin Burrell than loaded the bases before Alden Halfinger brought home the game’s first run with a towering sacrifice fly to left.
Vidal had trouble finding the plate in the second inning as the Cougars extended their lead to 4-0. Walks to Alex Sheehan and Ryan Kehlenbach, sandwiched between Sheehan’s steal of second and a bouncer to second by Kamoen, set up a nifty delayed double steal. Kehlenbach broke for second and beat catcher Jaivon Valez’s throw while Sheehan waited for the ball to leave Valez’s hand before breaking for home and easily beating the return throw to the plate to make it 2-0.
Glynn then walked to put Cougars at first and second. Erskine followed with his second hit of the day, scoring Kehlenbach and sending Glynn to third from where he scored on Powers’ sacrifice fly to left.
H-K added three more in the fourth on RBIs by Halfinger, Matt Miranda and Kamoen, a single run in the fifth and four more in the sixth to complete the scoring.
Derek Nunez and Jesus Sanchez collected the two Eagle hits.
“I’m proud of our kids,” said Grasso Tech coach Carlos Flores. “We played well today, we were overmatched a little on the field, but we kept playing hard, kept our heads up and didn’t give up.
“H-K,” he added, “is a very solid team.”
Erskine, with two hits, two runs scored and two ribbies, and Miranda with three hits and one RBI, paced the Cougars’ attack. Powers had a hit and two ribbies, Halfinger added two RBIs while Sheehan had a hit, an RBI, three walks, a steal of home and two runs scored. The other Cougar hits were collected by Glynn, who also scored a pair of runs, and Spencer Kelsey.
The Cougars were forced to face the Eagles without one of their top hitters in Luke DiMauro, who was serving a one-game suspension after having been tossed from last week’s game against Morgan for disputing a strike call. DiMauro will return to the lineup against Rockvill, Brookes said.
“I’ve been slumping a little bit lately, I needed to start seeing and hitting the ball hard again,” said Erskine, who will be heading to Southern Connecticut State to play ball next spring.
As for his pitching, Erskine admitted his off-speed pitches “weren’t there all the time today” and that he was “overthrowing” the changeup “a bit.”
“The curve came and went,” he added, “but I did have decent control of my fastball.”
In the end, that was the best news of all.
GT 000 000 0–0 2 4
HK 130 314 x–12 9 0
Batteries: GT–Vidal, Nunez (4), Megowan (6) and Velez; HK–Erskine, Kamoen (6) and Glynn. WP: Erskine; LP: Vidal. 2B: GT–Sanchez; HK–Miranda. Records: Grasso Tech 11-8; H-K 16-6.