Mercer paces NHS hit parade against Hearts

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WATERBURY — Two weeks ago, Naugatuck suffered its first defeat of the season, to Fairfield Ludlowe by a convincing, 17-7 margin. The Greyhounds could have done two things: Collapse and let the rest of the season unravel or dust themselves off and regroup.

Naugatuck chose the latter and is now 5-0 in the Naugatuck Valley League and 5-1 overall, riding a four-game winning streak. It started with three wins last week—two by one run—and on Monday at Municipal Stadium, the fourth victory came with a little breathing room, as the Garnet and Grey ran wild over Sacred Heart, 12-3.

The Hounds set the tone in their first at-bat, loading the bases then plating three runs on three consecutive wild pitches to gain a quick, 3-0 advantage. Sacred Heart battled back with three in the second to tie the game.

Zack Mercer steps out of batters box as Brandon Halbert races home with the first run of the game on a wild pitch in the first inning of Naugatuck’s 12-3 victory over Sacred Heart Monday at Municipal Stadium.
Zack Mercer steps out of batters box as Brandon Halbert races home with the first run of the game on a wild pitch in the first inning of Naugatuck’s 12-3 victory over Sacred Heart Monday at Municipal Stadium.

Then it was Zack Mercer who stole the show, pounding a run-scoring single for the go-ahead tally in the third, before unleashing a three-run homer in the fourth that proved to be the mustard on the hotdog.

“It’s been someone new every game, and that’s what good teams do,” Mercer said. “We have great chemistry on this team. Everyone just picks each other up, and that’s what we did after the Fairfield game. We have a good team here, and everyone believes in each other.”

Brandon Halbert led off the game with a walk. Zack Dreher was hit by a pitch, and Anthony McKernan singled to center to load the bases. Mercer and Matt Zahornasky followed with walks but not before Sacred Heart starting pitcher D.J. Ellis uncorked three wild pitches to hand Naugatuck a 3-0 cushion.

The Hearts tried to rally against Zahornasky, who went five innings, surrendering five hits while striking out five to improve to 3-0 for the season. A one-out single and an error opened the door in the second.

Marty Caine slugged an RBI double, and Alan Naylor followed with a two-run triple to tie the game, 3-3. Zahornasky reared back and stuck out the final two batters of the frame, stranding the go-ahead run at third.

Naugatuck went to work and quickly took back the lead, sending two runs across the plate in the third. A single by Dreher and a bean ball off McKernan set the table. Mercer singled in the go-ahead run, and Ryan White chased home a run on a groundout for a 5-3 Naugatuck lead.

“This team has something special,” Naugatuck head coach Tom Deller said. “I tell them every day, they have the ability to win this league. But if we don’t focus on each game, one at a time, we could very well lose the rest of the games on our schedule.

“But the camaraderie on this team is something I haven’t seen in a few seasons, and these guys want it bad. It’s not about individuals; it’s all about team.”

The Hounds shut off the light in the fourth, plating four more runs to grab a 9-3 advantage. Erich Broadrick drew a walk to lead it off and later scored, ahead of hits by Dreher and McKernan.

Then Mercer stepped in and sent a blast into the right-center field gap that hit the fence. Deller windmilled his arms, and Mercer completed the three-run, inside-the-park homer, as the Naugatuck dugout poured out to give him a well-deserved back-pounding.

Arber Mehmedi slugged a two-run double in the Hounds’ three-run fifth to put the game away, at 12-3. Adam Neveski pitched the final two innings, throwing hitless ball with two strikeouts, to complete the convincing win.