Pictured: Braden Karcich allowed just two hits and struck out 10 over six scoreless innings Friday. It was his third win of the season and he kept his ERA below one.

By Paul Augeri
middlesexcountysports@gmail.com

CROMWELL — Timing, especially in sports, is sometimes everything.

Valley Regional/Westbrook on Friday faced a must-win situation to keep its postseason hopes afloat, and wouldn’t you know it, ace Braden Karcich was set for his next turn in the rotation.

The junior right-hander pitched six scoreless innings and struck out 10, lowering his season ERA to 0.70, and Caleb Winkley notched the last three outs for a 4-0 Warriors victory over the Panthers at Fran Monnes Field.

Valley/Westbrook snapped a 3-game losing streak, and at 6-7 overall, needs just two more wins in its final seven games to qualify for the CIAC Class M tournament.

“He’s an unbelievable pitcher for someone who’s not overly overpowering,” Valley/Westbrook coach Pat Sirois said. “Braden has four pitches, but when he’s hitting his spots with three (fastball, cutter, curve), he’s a tough guy to face.”

The Warriors staked Karcich to a 1-0 lead in the first when Chase King’s ground ball scored Kyle Leandri from third.

With Karcich keeping the Panthers (5-9) at arm’s length, the Warriors supplied him with a 3-0 lead in the fifth. After Leandri and Jack McPherson both reached on errors, Leandri ended up scoring on a passed ball and McPherson came home on a Winkley double.

Karcich ran into trouble in Cromwell’s half of the fifth when he walked the leadoff batter and hit another with a pitch with one out. He ran a three-ball count to Connor Slifer, which prompted a mound visit from Sirois.

“He’d been dealing with little soreness in his arm at practice this week,” the coach said, “so I wanted to make sure he wasn’t laboring. He just thought he was working too quickly, so he slowed down and regrouped.”

Karcich got Slifer swinging for the second out and snuck out of the inning when McPherson gloved Colby DiMenna’s drive toward the fence in left field.

The Panthers’ best scoring chance of the day was thwarted.

“Braden is a pitcher who knows his mechanics,” Sirois said. “Coming into the season we didn’t have to do any work on him. He’s a kid who knows how to pitch and self-correct. He’s tough on mound with runners on base — he gets strikeouts and ground balls for outs.

“He’s exactly the kind of guy you want on the mound in a situation like today.”

The Warriors added an insurance run in the sixth. 6th: Karcich belted a ground-rule double to left with one out, got a great jump on a steal of third base and scored when the throw got away.

At third base, Leandri made the defensive play of the game when he snared a line drive near the chalk to end the sixth.

Karcich allowed just two hits and walked two. Slifer took the loss for Cromwell.

“We were facing a guy with a good arm,” Sirois said in a tip of the cap to Slifer. “If we put the ball in play we thought we could make some things happen. With our ace on the mound, we thought it would be tough to recover if we lost today, especially in Class M.

We needed the win and found a way to get it. We played a clean game defensively. We put the ball in play. We worked some walks. It was one of our best performances of the year.”

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