SIMSBURY — Naugatuck was just a hit or two short last Friday from making its first state baseball semifinal in 15 years.
The fifth-seeded Greyhounds went hitless with runners in scoring position and stranded the tying run on third in the seventh as No. 4 Simsbury took a 2-1 victory at Memorial Field.
“We’re short key hits,” Naugatuck coach Tom Deller said. “We get runners on base and we can’t get the big hit.”
Naugatuck (17-7) went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and left six men on base, including four on second or third.
The Greyhounds’ last chance came in the top of the seventh, when pinch hitter Evan Pellicia reached on a one-out error, moved to second on a wild pitch and advanced to third on a groundout. Josh Aviles bounced out to second base to end Naugy’s season.
It was Naugatuck’s first trip to the Class LL quarterfinals since 2000, and a victory would have brought the ‘Hounds to the semifinals for the first time since 1999.
Naugy outhit Simsbury, 6-4, but the Trojans came through twice with runners in scoring position in the second and third.
In the second, Jordan Whaley drew a leadoff walk from Naugatuck starter Adam Tavares and advanced to second on Jack Nickles’ sacrifice bunt. Jack LaVigne followed up with a single up the middle, and Aviles’ throw to the plate bounced away from catcher John Dean.
“If we catch that baseball at the plate, that first run is out,” Deller said. “We’ve thrown many guys out at the plate this year and that was a makeable play, but it just didn’t happen.”
Spencer Dreher erased the deficit moments later when he drilled John Patrina’s 1-2 fastball over the 355-foot sign in right-center field to lead off the third.
That was Naugy’s only big hit of the day.
“I placed a fastball right in the wheelhouse for him,” said Patrina, who pitched five innings with three strikeouts before yielding to Whaley for the two-inning save. “It was a great swing, but I had great defense all the way through.”
The ‘Hounds had a chance to add more runs in the third when they loaded the bases with two outs. Aviles and Kyle Plasky knocked back-to-back singles before Dean walked to bring up Tavares.
Patrina fell behind 2-0 in the count but rallied to strike out Naugy’s cleanup hitter with a 2-2 curveball down and away.
Back-to-back doubles by Jack Faulkner and Frankie Gregoire in the third gave Simsbury a 2-1 lead, one that held the rest of the way thanks to missed opportunities by the Greyhounds.
Naugatuck left another man in scoring position in the fourth after Rick Plasky’s one-out double, and Naugy ran itself out of the fifth inning when a sign interpreted incorrectly by pinch runner Matt Whitney resulted in his getting caught stealing second.
Tavares led off the sixth with a single to left, but he was called for interference while trying to break up a double-play ball hit by Jason Bradley in the next at-bat. The umpires delayed in making their decision, which frustrated Naugy and led to another scoreless inning.
“His explanation was that (Tavares) slid out of the baseline and (the umpire) made a mistake that he didn’t immediately call him out,” Deller said. “I had no argument with it.”
Naugatuck allowed just three earned runs in its three state tournament games but struggled to provide run support. Tavares’ complete-game four-hitter went wasted, but it helped prove the Greyhounds belonged among Class LL’s final eight.
“We came up here with the feeling that (Simsbury) thought we were just coming up here for the ride, and that wasn’t the case,” Deller said. “We came up here to win this baseball game. I’ll live and die with these guys and play with them any day.”