Video compiled by Dan DeBlasio, CN staff writer
BETHEL — Zac Hertel is a quiet kid. In fact, he doesn’t say much at all. On Tuesday night, though, he didn’t need to. His arm did all the talking for him.
The righty hurler’s performance, like his persona, wasn’t loud or flashy. He didn’t tally up double-figure strikeouts—in fact, his first ‘K’ of the night didn’t come until the fifth inning— and he didn’t breeze through the game, but what Hertel did do was quietly put forth a gutsy complete game outing that handed one of the state’s best teams their first loss of the season.
“He just goes out there, goes about his business, doesn’t say two words, and gets the job done on the hill,” Naugatuck Head Coach Ron Swierbitowicz said of Hertel.
His business Tuesday night, at Bethel High School, was retiring batters. He took care of business. Hertel pounded the strike zone all night, giving up three runs, two of them earned, propelling the Naugatuck American Legion Post 17 to an 8-3 victory, their third win four games.
“My fastball was working well all night, and that helped a lot,” Hertel said. “I was able to throw my curve for strikes too, which kept the hitters off balance.”
It wasn’t without peril, though, that Hertel got through the game. Bethel got runners on base, seemingly, in every frame, but Hertel never gave up the big inning. He labored down the stretch; Swierbitowicz even got a man up in the bullpen in the sixth, but Hertel refused to implode, regularly got big outs and worked his way out of jams.
“I just continued to keep it in the strike zone and tried to get ahead of every hitter,” Hertel said. “With the wooden bats I knew the ball wasn’t going to travel as far, so I didn’t worry and just threw strikes and let the guys do the job behind me.”
Naugatuck didn’t seem to have as
hard a time getting the ball to travel as Bethel did.
Post 17 got the bats going early and often, putting up four runs in the first frame off Bethel pitcher Jordie Scheiner. Anthony McKernan, Arber Mehmedi and Gregory Rice recorded RBIs for Naugatuck.
“They came out hot early,” Bethel Head Coach Robert Manfreda said. “The hitters were very patient. Jordie has a very good knuckleball, but they didn’t go after it. They sat on the fastball and drove it.”
“The bats were here tonight,” Swierbitowicz said. “It was nice to get out to an early lead; that hasn’t happened much for us this season, so we have to take advantage of it.”
Despite the four-run outburst in the first, Naugatuck didn’t let its foot off the pedal. The team struck again in the third, when power hitter Rice got his second RBI hit in as many at bats, driving in Xavier Ortiz with a single to right.
“Rice is a very passionate player,” said Swierbitowicz. “The kid works hard every game. He’s a big strong kid with a lot of power; he’s dangerous when he gets the bat on the ball.”
Bethel tallied runs in the third and fifth, but Naugatuck answered each one, keeping the lead comfortable throughout.
“It seemed like whenever they plated a run we would tack on a couple more,” said Swierbitowicz. “It was great that we were able to keep adding runs. It’s big for our offense and big for Hertel too; we backed him with runs, and made it so he didn’t feel like he had to be perfect all night.”
The run production was ample for Hertel, who, on this night, quietly rolled through Bethel like a thief in the night, leaving the opposition wondering what happened.
Naugatuck, who started their season 1-10, is now 4-11, while Bethel falls to 9-1. Post 17 was scheduled to play Wednesday and Thursday, after printing, and will be back in action Tuesday, when they hope to avenge an early-season loss in New Milford.