Greyhounds advance to Class LL baseball quarterfinals
NAUGATUCK — The drought is over — and it’s over in a big way.
After going seven years without even experiencing a state tournament victory, the Naugatuck baseball squad picked up two in two days this week to reach the Class LL quarterfinals for the first time since 2000.
In a Tuesday afternoon thriller at Rotary Field, Spencer Dreher hit a bases-loaded, walk-off single to left field to lead the No. 5 Greyhounds past No. 21 Newtown 3-2 in eight innings.
Six-time state champion Naugatuck (17-6) will visit No. 4 Simsbury (16-5) on Friday at 2 p.m.
“As long as I can remember watching games here, we were one-and-out in the NVL tournament and one-and-out in the state tournament,” said Naugatuck starter Rick Plasky, who tossed a complete-game six-hitter. “It feels great to finally be winning games in the state tournament.”
After squandering a 1-0 lead with two outs in the seventh and falling behind in extras thanks to a series of errors, the ‘Hounds needed a rally in the bottom of the eighth.
Adam Tavares led off the eighth with a double to deep left-center and scored the tying run when third baseman Charlie Huegi threw Jason Bradley’s ground ball out of play. Bradley advanced to second on the two-base error.
A groundout by Kevin Mariano brought Bradley to third, and the Nighthawks decided to intentionally walk Jovanni Torres and Plasky to bring up Dreher. The left-handed slugger slapped a 1-2 curveball into left field to bring home Bradley with the winning run.
“The fact that they intentionally walked two straight batters to get to me — I wasn’t expecting it, but it was awesome,” said Dreher, who had two hits. “The first two pitches were curveballs right down the plate, and I thought I was going to lose the at-bat for a second. He offered me another curveball down the plate and I took advantage of it.”
Bradley foresaw the ending as soon as he reached third, where he experienced a moment of déjà vu.
“We had that exact same situation last summer in Junior Legion: bottom of the eighth, I was on third with one out and they intentionally walked two guys,” Bradley said. “We got a base hit and the game was over, and this varsity team is basically that team we had last summer.”
Dreher was the winning pitcher in Naugatuck’s 8-0 first-round victory over East Hartford on Monday, but Greyhounds coach Tom Deller said the junior wasn’t at his best. Tuesday’s game provided a chance for redemption.
“Spencer had a little emotional struggle (Monday), and baseball’s a funny game. Baseball finds the guy who’s struggling,” Deller said. “When the game’s on the line, you’re going to be at the plate, and he came through.”
Naugatuck took a 1-0 lead in the first when Josh Aviles led off with one of his four hits by legging out an infield single. Kyle Plasky sacrificed Aviles to second and John Dean’s soft liner into left sent Aviles home.
In the top of the seventh, Newtown tied the game at 1-1 with an unearned run when Austin Rafferty singled and came around to score on an outfield error.
Naugy had a chance to win in the bottom half with Aviles standing on third, but he misjudged a pitch in the dirt to Tavares and was thrown out at the plate to end the inning.
“I hesitated, and I’d like to think if I didn’t that I would have been in there,” Aviles said. “I knew if I took it out of (Tavares’) hands, he wasn’t going to leave it that way. He was going to get a big hit and we always seem to string it together when we need to.”
The eighth-inning rally became necessary after Newtown’s Greg Hennessey cracked an RBI single to center to give the Nighthawks a 2-1 lead. Sure enough, Tavares picked up Aviles with the leadoff double and Dreher finished it off.
“I’m glad I’m a part of it and I’m glad my teammates are part of it,” Dreher said. “We’ve had our ups and downs this season, but it’s awesome to be hitting the ball and striking kids out at the right time of the season.”
Deller hopes his Greyhounds can continue their postseason of firsts on Friday. Naugy’s first-round win was its first state tournament victory since Pat Dean took the hill in 2007, and now the ‘Hounds will appear in a quarterfinal for the first time in twice as long.
A win would send Naugy to its first state semifinal since 1999. Naugatuck has not won a state championship since 1977.
“These guys are good, man,” Deller said. “We’ve been saying they’re good since day one, and the thing is that I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface of our potential.”