ANSONIA — In a Naugatuck Valley League quarterfinal that produced only five hits, third-seeded Derby proved timing is everything, eliminating No. 6 Naugatuck, 3-0, Monday at Nolan Field.
The Red Raiders (15-6), playing their first NVL season, have surprised a few teams along the way. They dismantled Torrington by a 27-5 count earlier in the season and last week trailed Watertown 9-2 before erupting for 11 runs in their final at-bat to pull out a 13-9 win.
There would be no such offensive outbursts in the quarterfinals, as both teams trotted out their ace pitchers. The Greyhounds’ Matt Zahornasky went up against the Red Raiders’ Ryan Skelly, and a pitchers’ duel ensued.
Naugatuck (12-9) managed only three baserunners, scratching out just two hits. Derby collected only three hits, but they were well-timed, around a handful of walks, and enough to generate three runs.
“You can play your best defense and get the best pitching effort, but if you don’t hit the ball, you’re not going to win,” Naugatuck head coach Tom Deller summarized.
Asked if his team had any apprehensions about playing in their first NVL season, Derby skipper Sumner Sochrin, a 35-year coaching veteran with more than 450 wins to his credit, replied, “Baseball is baseball no matter what league you’re playing in.”
“Ryan is an outstanding pitcher, at 9-2 this season, and he did a great job against a tough LL school over there.”
Erich Broadrick reached on an infield error in the first before Derby pulled off a double play to end the threat. Zahornasky hit an infield single in the second, and Broadrick reached on a single in the third, but both potential rallies started with two outs, and Naugatuck couldn’t pull the trigger to plate the runs.
Naugy yielded a baserunner in the first, on a walk, and another in the second, on an infield error, but stellar plays by Matt D’Agnone at second base and Zach Dreher at shortstop ended both threats.
In the bottom of the third, Derby got the break it was looking for. After beginning the inning with a strikeout, Zahornasky lost the strike zone momentarily and walked the next two batters.
The free passes came back to haunt the Greyhounds, when Ray Kreiger followed with a run-scoring double that center fielder Jonathan Bisson tracked down. A groundout deep in the hole at shortstop plated a second run, before Anthony McKernan latched onto a foul pop off first base to retire the side.
Enjoying a 2-0 advantage, Skelly went on a tear, retiring the final 13 batters he faced; he struck out nine in the game and walked none.
The Derby defense backed up its pitcher: Rich Pimental was robbed of a hit on a fine play at second base in the fourth inning, and Mike Kennedy hit a blast to center that was tracked down in the fifth.
Derby came up in the bottom of the frame and tacked on its final run. Mike Ippolito pounded a double to left for only the second hit of the game against Zahornasky. Brian Dobek drew a walk, and Kreiger sent a single to right field. Adam Blanchard came up throwing, and Arber Mehmedi blocked the plate. Dobek got around the tag for a 3-0 Derby advantage.
Naugatuck couldn’t generate any offense to get back in the game and will now prepare for next week’s Class LL state tournament.