WEST HARTFORD – Baseball apocalypse stared Northwest Catholic in the face on two fronts.
Underdog East Catholic was poised to stage an upset after dodging several threats and catching a few breaks. After the Indians built a four-run lead and had ace pitcher Mac Crispino on the hill to close it down, black clouds percolating in the western sky nearly escorted the visitors to a monumental comeback.
But even stormy weather and shaky karma couldn’t keep Northwest from advancing a step closer to its goal -- regaining the Class S championship.
A strong start from sophomore righthander John Arel and relentlessly aggressive baserunning staked the top-seeded Indians to a 5-3 victory over the resolute Eagles Sunday in a quarterfinal at Northwest Catholic.
Northwest (20-2) will take on Cromwell Tuesday at Waterbury's Municipal Stadium with game time slated for 7 p.m. Cromwell, which ousted St. Paul Sunday, eliminated Northwest in a Class S football semifinal in December. Northwest won its first and only 'S' title in 2010.
Arel tossed six sparkling frames, allowing the No. 24 Eagles (10-13) one run on three scratch singles. He walked just one, struck out three and used a three-pitch mix to jam the East hitters, inducing slow grounders, humpback line drives and lazy fly balls.
The Indians carried a 5-1 lead into the seventh inning after scoring four times and sending eight batters to the plate in the sixth. Northwest coach Cory Carlson had Crispino ready, but neither the Eagles nor Mother Nature was going to let the Indians and their ace slide by without a tussle.
The wind rustled the nearby treetops, the rain sent the crowd scurrying and the burden of coping with the sudden calamity fell on Crispino. Singles by Casey Carone and Tyler Aprea and a two-out walk to number-nine hitter Nick Benoit brought Garrett Richardello up with the tying run.
First baseman Dan Errico called for an infield pop and was startled when the wind blew it back toward the first-base dugout, well out of his reach. Given a reprieve, Richardello lashed a two-run double to left but Crispino struck out Andrew Gordon to end the game.
“Weird circumstances. It should have been a 5-1 game,” Carlson said. “When a kid hits a routine pop-up to first base, we’re in monsoon conditions and it takes a 90-degree turn. It’s a state tournament and you’ve got to get it in. The umpires did a good job getting it in and luckily things worked out in our favor.”
Crispino said he retained his focus in spite of the atmospheric onslaught.
“You want that situation as a pitcher right there. You want to close it out with all the fans here,” he said. “The thing about it is you can’t even throw the ball across the diamond. Did you see that pop-up? It flew like 10 feet. Pretty crazy.”
The key element in all of Northwest’s scoring was the stolen base. The Indians tried eight and succeeded on seven. Crispino had three and Alex Mortillaro, who scored the go-ahead tally in the sixth, had two. But the strategy wasn’t flawless. The Indians had one runner thrown out at the plate and another caught off second base.
“[Aggressive baserunning] is something we’ve always done,” Carlson said. “We have the best first-base coach in the state if not New England (Jason Maule) at the high school level. He’ll take guys that aren’t fast and makes them fast by reading the pitcher. He’s done an outstanding job getting our baserunners prepared.”
Northwest took a 1-0 lead in the third against East starter Aprea. Crispino laid down a perfect bunt on the first pitch of the frame and proceeded to steal second and third. Mortillaro laced a one-out single to left.
Arel faced the minimum through four and hadn’t allowed a hit when Ryan Wieczorek began the fifth with an infield hit in the hole. He advanced on a balk and a tapper back to the mound. With two down, Aprea singled to the opposite field on a payoff pitch to score the equalizer.
“[Arel] was fantastic,” Carlson said. “Two cue shots and an infield single. Honestly what he does is throw strikes. … He’s doing a better job mixing pitches and getting ahead of guys.”
East loaded the bases but Arel sawed off Richardello on a 3-2 pitch to retire the side.
Mortillaro worked a walk to start the big sixth-inning rally and stole second. Mike Wine laced a 3-2 single to left. Mortillaro held up at third, but when catcher Alex Fulco fielded the throw from the outfield and tried to get Wine at second, Mortillaro scored in a cloud of dust.
“Early in the game the same thing happened but [Will Carew] got tossed out on a close play at the plate,” Mortillaro said. “We were talking about how the catcher was blocking the plate so you do a hook slide and try to get your hand in. I saw the throw to second was low so I figured I’d be aggressive and go off my instincts.”
Dylan Robinson, who struck out looking with the bases loaded in the first, reprieved himself with a base hit that scored Wine. Andrew Dornfried drove in Robinson with a single and Carew scored the final run on a wild pitch.
Class S Baseball Tournament
NW Catholic 3, East Catholic 2
At Northwest Catholic
East Catholic NW Catholic
ab r h bi ab r h bi
Richardello ss 3 0 1 2 Wilson ss 3 0 0 0
Gordon cf 4 0 0 0 Crispino cf 3 1 1 0
Cella rf-3b 3 0 0 0 Errico 1b 2 0 0 0
Wieczorek lf 3 1 1 0 Mortillaro 3b 1 1 1 1
Carone dh 3 0 1 0 Wine c 2 1 1 0
DiPace 2b 0 0 0 0 Robinson lf 3 1 1 1
Fulco c 3 1 0 0 Carew rf 1 1 0 0
Aprea p-rf 3 1 2 1 Angelini dh 3 0 1 0
Felice rf 2 0 1 0 Arel p 0 0 0 0
Rooke p 0 0 0 0 Dornfried cf 3 0 1 1
Greene p 1 0 0 0
Benoit 1b 1 0 0 0
Totals 26 3 6 3 Totals 21 5 6 3
East Catholic 000 010 2 – 3 6 1
NW Catholic 001 004 x – 5 6 0
E – Fulco. LOB – East Catholic 5, NWC 6. 2B – Richardello.
SB – Crispino 3, Mortillaro 2, Wilson, Robinson, Dornfried.
CS – Wilson.
ip h r er bb so
Aprea L 5 4 3 3 5 4
Rooke 0.1 2 2 2 1 0
Greene 0.2 0 0 0 0 0
Arel W 6 3 1 1 1 3
Crispino 1 3 2 2 1 1
Aprea faced 2 batters in 6th inning.
WP – Rooke. BK – Arel, Rooke. HBP – by Aprea (Mortillaro, Wine);by Arel (Richardello). T – 1:59. Records – EC 10-13; NWC 20-2.