WATERBURY — The Wilby Wildcats and the Naugatuck Greyhounds met on the diamond for the third time this season in Tuesday’s quarterfinal matchup of the Naugatuck Valley League baseball tournament at Municipal Stadium.
Both teams earned hard-fought, extra-inning victories as they split the first two games of the season. But the rubber match went to Wilby, as the No. 7 Wildcats took advantage of their opportunities and knocked off No. 2 Naugatuck 8-1.
Naugatuck pitcher Rich Pimental deserved a better fate as the Naugatuck defense committed one error in each of the first five innings, handing Wilby five unearned runs.
“You certainly can’t make all those errors and give away five runs and expect to win too many games,” Naugatuck head coach Tom Deller said. “But outside of the hole we dug for ourselves, we just didn’t come up to the plate with a whole lot of confidence.”
Naugatuck (14-7) was held to just four hits by the Wildcats’ Manny Cruz and Wilby (13-8) made just one error in the field to back up its pitcher.
“If they think he was tough to hit, there are teams in the Class LL that have two or three pitchers that are as equal to if not better than Cruz,” Deller said. “If we go up to the plate without any confidence it’s going to be a very short postseason for us.”
Wilby got on the board in the first inning when a misplayed ball between shortstop John Dean and left fielder Karl Johansen fell, putting the leadoff batter on first. Andre Eason singled to left sending Jacob Thomas to third base before Ricky Roman’s sac fly gave the Wildcats’ a 1-0 lead.
With two outs in the second, Mark Plourde crushed a double down the left-field line. Plourde later scored thanks to a throwing error on a groundout to make it 2-0.
A throwing error on a comebacker to the mound started a Wildcat run in the third inning. A walk followed by a two-run single from Roman put Wilby in control at a 4-0 advantage.
The bottom of the Naugatuck order set the table when Ryan White sliced a single down the left-field line and Bryan Pihonak dumped a single into right. With the top of the order due up, the ‘Hounds were poised to get back in this game.
But Cruz dialed it up a notch and got a strikeout and a groundout to shortstop to get out of the jam and keep Naugy off the scoreboard.
Another Naugatuck error had Wilby looking to add to the lead in the fourth. That was until Nolan Kinne charged in and made a shoestring grab in centerfield and fired it in to Pihonak at second for an inning-ending double play.
Hoping that would be the spark to ignite the Naugatuck bats, Pimental led off the bottom of the fourth with a solid single to right. A passed ball had the runner in scoring position but Cruz set the next three Greyhounds down in order to end the threat.
The Wildcats reached on an error in the fifth and Robert Williams made Naugatuck pay the price with a run-scoring double to left to open up a 5-0 advantage.
Wilby busted it open by scoring three runs in the sixth and Mike Burns came on in relief of Pimental as Naugatuck was behind 8-0.
Wilby committed its first error of the game in the bottom of the sixth and Zac Mercer reached first base with two outs. Kyle Lopes ripped a run-scoring single to right before Cruz induced a comebacker to the mound to end the frame.
Egzon Mehmedi pitched the seventh for Naugatuck while Sean Dibble, Scott Sill and Charles Healy went to the plate in the bottom of the inning but couldn’t get anything going against Cruz, who finished up a tidy four-hitter against the Hounds.
Naugatuck will likely earn a top-10 seed in the Class LL state tournament and host a first-round game on Tuesday.