Mercer’s walk-off pushes Hounds past Indians

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Naugatuck pitcher Rich Pimenthal brings the heat versus Watertown Monday afternoon. PHOTO BY LARAINE WESCHLER

NAUGATUCK — With his team trailing by four runs to Watertown in the bottom of the sixth inning on Monday, Naugatuck baseball coach Tom Deller wasn’t worried. When Zack Mercer launched a walk-off, three-run home run to the opposite field in the bottom of the seventh—giving the Greyhounds an 11-8 win—it proved why not.

 

“These guys just battle,” Deller said about his team. “[Watertown has] three huge guys that were pitching out there for them today.”

Mercer came to the plate with runners at the corners and two outs, and though just a single would plate the game-winning run in Nolan Kinne, the junior took it up and out over the right-center field fence for the walk-off homer.

“It feels way better [than a single],” Mercer said. “I just tried to drive it but I got a good pitch.”

Trailing by one, Karl Johansen led off the inning for the Greyhounds with a triple off of Tom O’Brien, and then scored on a passed ball to tie the game. O’Brien got the next two batters, but Kinne dropped a beautiful bunt down the third-base line to restart the rally for Naugatuck. Arber Mehmedi singled to right-center to put runners at the corners, setting the stage for Mercer’s dramatic home run.

“A guy gets up with a leadoff triple, you want to be the next guy who gets up and knocks him in,” Deller said. “And that’s the approach we try to teach here.”

The ‘Hounds trailed, 8-4, heading into the bottom of the sixth but closed the deficit with a three-run rally. With Breck Oliver on the mound, the Greyhounds loaded the bases with nobody out and scored a run with a walk to Mehmedi. The next batter, Mercer, hit a ground ball through the legs of shortstop James Phillips, and two more runs came around to score.

“We were just trying to keep everyone pumped up,” Mercer said, “We tried to keep the rally going.”

With still nobody out and the game in the balance, Rich Pimenthal delivered a base hit to left. Deller tried to score Mehmedi from second, but Eric Ford gunned him out with a great throw to the plate. Oliver then retired the next two batters to hold the Indians’ lead into the seventh.

Adam Neveski pitched a scoreless seventh to earn the win for the ‘Hounds.

It didn’t always appear that the Greyhounds would require a comeback to earn the win, with the first four batters of the bottom of the first inning reaching for Naugatuck. Pimenthal came to the plate with the bases loaded and nobody out and ripped a single to left that scooted underneath the glove of Ford. That cleared the bases, putting Pimenthal on second and giving the Greyhounds the early 3-0 lead.

But Watertown starter Mitch Kelly bore down, striking out the next three batters and limiting the damage to three runs.

The two teams traded runs in their respective halves of the third inning, but in the fourth, the Indians mounted a comeback of their own.

Pimenthal, getting the start for Naugy, walked the leadoff man in Nick DeZinno, who came around to score on a double down the right-field line by Ford. The junior allowed four more runs in the inning—including one on a perfectly executed double steal with runners on first and third—before giving way to reliever Michael Burns with still just one out and runners at first and second.

Burns induced a popup from DJ Ouellette, but cleanup hitter Joe Cianciolo hit a single back up the middle, scoring Steve Niele. After Burns struck out DeZinno to finally end the inning, the damage was done, and the Indians had a 6-4 lead.

Things settled down in the fifth, with both teams being set down in order by relief pitchers. After Burns pitched a 1-2-3 top half of the inning, Breck Oliver came on for the Indians and did the same.

But the Indians pushed across a couple more in the top of the sixth. Three-straight hits to lead off the inning loaded the bases for Cianciolo, who was hit by a pitch to force home a run. Then, with the bases still loaded and one out, Burns walked Ford for another Waterford run, leaving just six outs for the Greyhounds to mount their four-run comeback.

“We’ve allowed teams to get back in games by not making plays, by not throwing the ball where we want,” Deller said. “We’ve allowed teams that we should compete with to get ahead of us.”

The win moved Naugatuck to 2-1 on the young season with a 4-2 loss last Wednesday to Torrington being the only blemish. The Greyhounds were set to face Crosby on Wednesday before traveling to Wolcott on Friday and hosting Sacred Heart on Monday.