Westhill beats Staples 10-3
The May-like, championship intensity was the same. Unfortunately for the Staples baseball team was concerned, the outcome was not.
A dramatic eight-run fifth inning supported the complete-game effort of Westhill pitcher Nate Newhall, propelling the Vikings to a 10-3 home win over Staples on Friday afternoon. The win ended Westhill's three-game losing streak to the team that has become its biggest nemesis, including setbacks in the last two FCIAC finals.
"They have been beating us up the last couple of years, and you've got to get them back sometime," said Newhall, who settled down after giving up a home run to Jack Hennessy leading off the game.
The defeat was the first of the year for the Wreckers (4-1, 3-1), who had outscored their opponents, 50-17.
"It's a regular-season loss," Staples coach Jack McFarland said. "The important time to beat a team like this is in the playoffs."
McFarland went with his No. 3 starter, junior lefty Rob Gau, who allowed just one run and one hit before getting knocked out in the fifth after five of the first six batters he faced reach base.
Hennessy staked Gau to a quick lead by driving a ball to the gap in left-center that kept rolling. Staples, however, failed to capitalize in the third inning with the score tied at 1-1 when Colin McCarthy led off with a single and Ben Lipper followed with a double. Newhall struck out Hennessy, then induced Tyler Jacobs and Grant Moss to ground out.
"That was huge," McFarland said. "We have a junior out there making his first real start against a real team. It was imperative to get the lead there."
The Vikings got their first run in the second when Morgan Williams drew a leadoff walk and eventually scored on Sam Kostrich's fielder's choice, and got their first hit when Alex Rough singled with two outs in the third.
Newhall retired the side in order in the top of the fourth, rebounding from Hennessy's opening salvo.
"It wasn't a good hit," Newhall said. "It wasn't hit hard, it just skidded on our grass. I just had to bear down and go get it."
But the Wreckers used consecutive two-out bunts by Lipper and Hennessy to regain the lead in the fifth. Jacbos drove in the first run with a hard single to center, and Moss made it 3-1 with a double to deep center.
The Vikings prevented a fourth run on the play when Curto quickly got the ball back in to shortstop Scott Valenzano, whose throw home arrived in Alex Rough's mitt a split second before Jacobs did.
Westhill delivered the decisive blow in the bottom half of the inning, which started with a base hit by Kostrich and a slow-roller down the third-base line that Brian Moynihan beat out. Valenzano bunted into a force, but Billy DeMartino doubled down the left-field line to make it 3-2. Rough was intentionally walked to load the bases before Curto hit a shot off the top of the fence in center to put Westhill ahead, 4-3, and leading McFarland to bring in Chet Pajolek to relieve Gau.
"You never want to put too much pressure on yourself, you just want to come to the plate relaxed," Curto said. "He gave me a good pitch to hit."
Morgan Williams walked to load the bases again and the Vikings got another run when Newhall reached on catcher's interference. Rich then deposited a pitch over the right-field fence that made the score 10-3 and set off a raucous celebration at home plate.
"We finally broke out," Vikings Coach DJ Mulvany said. "[Gau] threw a good game. We found ways to get on but couldn't get any runs across."
Mulvany pulled Newhall in the fourth inning of Monday's game against Greenwich so he would have him available to face the Wreckers.
"He pitched well but we didn't field behind him," Mulvany said. "I wanted to use him later in the week. We were fortunate to have him in our back pocket. He was ahead in the count 80 percent of the time and threw all three pitches for strikes. He pitched well."
And a season that appeared to be on the verge of spiraling out of control was put back on track.
"What a huge difference," Newhall said. "Before we were carrying our heads. Things are a lot better now."
Staples won 19-0 at Bassick on Monday and hosts Trumbull today at 1 p.m.
Dave Ruden is a staff reporter for the Stamford Advocate.