Pictured: Tiernan Powers (right) got a charge out of recording the final out of the sixth inning against Norwich. Third baseman Tyler Powell is at left. (Paul Augeri Photo)
By Paul Augeri
MIDDLETOWN – For however long the ride continues for Middletown in the American Legion state tournament, the 75ers at least know they are where they are because of opportunism, teamwork and superior pitching.
Tiernan Powers tossed six innings of two-hit ball, Brent Gilson worked the seventh for the save and Alex Mach pushed across the go-ahead run with a safety squeeze to lead the 75ers to a 2-0 win over Norwich at Palmer Field on Wednesday night.
“We haven’t lost in 24 days, knock on wood,” Middletown coach Dan Botti said, “ever since we lost four guys (to injuries and departures earlier this summer) around the same time. The team is rallying around that. Guys are stepping up. They’ve seen the success that the (75ers’) Coginchaug players had in the spring and the kids from Xavier and Middletown want a taste of that.”
No. 4 seed Middletown’s 20th win of the summer earned it a Thursday game against No. 1 Waterford in the final four of the single-elimination tournament’s Northern bracket. The matchup is scheduled for 7pm at South Windsor’s Rotary Field. The 75ers are the lone remaining Zone 3 team in the tournament after RCP and Tri-County lost on Wednesday.
For Powers (Xavier), it was his second win in two nights. On Tuesday, the cagey right-hander relieved starter Mach (Coginchaug) in the eighth and the 75ers went on to a 2-1 walk-off win against Naugatuck.
The 75ers (20-7) had just one hit through four innings, but they strung together five of their finest at-bats in some time to break through against Norwich starter Elliott Johnson.
Third baseman Tyler Powell (MHS), who continues to produce as a call-up from the 17U team, singled to right with one out and Owen Clancy — a major player in Coginchaug’s Class S championship in June — followed with a line single to left.
Up came the fatigued Mach, whose pitch count hit 100 the previous night. With Middletown’s 17U team alive in its state tournament and 19U dealing with a thin bench, Mach has played left field and batting as a stopgap when he’s not mowing down opponents.
“He’s been going out there playing good defense and having good at-bats, and he came up tonight in the most important spot in the game,” Botti said.
Elliott’s first pitch hit the dirt and got by catcher Riley Burke, moving Powell to third and Clancy. After a mound visit by Norwich coach Tom Pietruczuk, Mach asked Botti what the sign was for a safety squeeze.
“He was clearly confused what that was and I told him, ‘The sign is me telling you to safety squeeze,’” Botti said.
Elliott’s second offering was belt-high. Mach pushed it in the air halfway down the first-base line and Powell scored easily.
“I just threw the bat out there and hoped the ball hit it,” Mach said.
Ryan Quinn beat out a roller to shortstop for an infield hit that scored Clancy with the second run. The 75ers were in a spot to add to their lead after Mike Garofalo’s single sent Quinn to third, but Ryan Michaud flied out to center for the third out.
With an eye on his pitch count entering the sixth, Powers encountered his first real jam of the night when he surrendered a leadoff double to Burke and, with one out, lost control of a slider and hit Ryan Trudeau square in the back. Botti came out to the mound to tell his pitcher that his count was up to 99, 11 from the max.
“I told him this would be his last batter and to empty the tank,” Botti said.
Powers needed just four fastballs to strike out Jason Wedge for the second out, getting a thumb’s up from Botti to continue on with one more batter. He went to 2-2 on William Wolfe, who fouled off two more pitches before Powers blew a letter-high fastball by him for strike three.
“Mike kept calling slider but I just shook him off. I just wanted to throw fastballs,” said Powers, who walked two and struck out 10. “When the kid hit the double it kind of gave me a little adrenaline rush. I didn’t want to throw my slider to the last kid at all. I was super confident in the fastball.”
Gilson worked around a two-out error in the seventh and got a strikeout to end it.
“When I was throwing in the pen I wasn’t feeling too good, but when I got out there I felt pretty good,” Gilson said. “I was really hoping (Powers) would get out of the sixth so I’d had a clean inning.”
Johnson pitched a solid five innings for Norwich (15-9), allowing five hits with no walks and three strikeouts. Norwich left seven on base.
“He’s been our guy this year – maybe 45 innings and seven wins. When we’ve needed a win he’s been our horse,” said Pietruczuk, who added that the game came down to “executing and situational hitting. Middletown hit better in those spots.”
**Afterward, Middletown was undecided on its starting pitcher for Thursday. Griffin Biro and Gilson are available to start.
**Waterford advanced with a 4-0 win over Tri-County. Waterford was the top-seeded team in the recently played Northeast Regional double-elimination qualifier, losing twice to fall back into the state tournament field. Zone 3 member NCL-Windsor Locks went on to win the qualifier and opened the regional tournament in Worcester with a win over New Hampshire on Wednesday.
**Post 75’s Colin Loria, who returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing more than seven weeks — he tore muscles in his hip off the bone — has played steady at shortstop the last two games. He singled in his final at-bat against Naugatuck and reached on an error in the fourth against Norwich.
**Palmer Field attendance the last two nights (via head count) came in around 170 or so.
Norwich……..000 000 0–0 2 1
Middletown…000 020 x–2 5 1
Batteries: N–Elliott Johnson, Jason Hicks Jr. (6) and Riley Burke; M–Tiernan Powers, Brent Gilson (7) and Mike Garofalo. WP: Powers; LP: Johnson; S: Gilson. 2B: N–Burke.