HYANNIS, Mass. -– The Barnstable baseball team knows that it only needs to put up a couple of runs at most when Willie Nastasi is on the mound. But with their lives on the line in the first round of the MIAA Division 1 South tournament, they made sure to give their senior ace plenty of support.
The Red Raiders scored six unanswered runs –- including four in the fifth –- to back a solid, complete-game effort by Nastasi, who struck out seven and yielded just five hits and a walk to lead Barnstable to a 6-1 victory over Catholic Memorial this afternoon.
No. 4 seed Barnstable improves to 15-4 and will take on the winner of BC High and Framingham in the quarterfinals on the Cape Tuesday. No. 13 seed Catholic Memorial bows out with a 12-9 record.
"The team has a lot of confidence in Willie, so much so that if we just get two runs, we feel like we're more than likely going to win the game," Barnstable coach Joe DeMartino said. "We know Willie is going to give us a great game, so it's all up to our bats after that."
The Red Raiders' offense has been spotty at times this season, and worse, they were facing a formidable foe in Catholic Memorial starter Patrick Hurley, who tossed a seven-inning no-hitter in his previous start against Brockton (May 21). But that didn't deter them from winning their third straight opening-round playoff game.
Everett Walsh and Sam Holway had two hits each for Barnstable, which hammered out 10 hits altogether and eight off Hurley, who fanned five and walked four over five-and-two-third innings.
"Patrick wasn't at his best today, but our defense didn't help him at all," Catholic Memorial coach Hal Carey said. "We knew we were playing a very good team with a very good pitcher and that we'd have to play close to perfect to win, but we made too many errors. We hit the ball OK, but they made every play. Their defense was much better than ours."
Nastasi, who struck out 16 batters in his now infamous 155-pitch effort against Taunton earlier in the year, was coming off a rare loss in his previous outing vs. Dennis-Yarmouth (May 24). But in a do-or-die setting, he wasn't about to let his team down.
"I definitely felt a little more pressure in this game because it's the state tournament," said Nasasti. "I was anxious all day and had a lot of adrenaline going between innings, but I felt like I needed to get the job done and I did."
The Knights did their best to rattle Nastasi from the start.
Kevin Murphy smacked the first pitch of the game to deep right for a triple and came home two batters later on Sean Heelen's sacrifice fly. But that's all the visitors could come up with against the UConn commit.
Nastasi retired 11 of the next 13 batters, and in between, picked off a runner at first.
"Early on, I couldn't throw my cutter for a strike and I couldn't get my change-up where it needed to be, but working in the bullpen between innings helped," said Nastasi. "Playing catch allowed me get more comfortable with the grip."
Barnstable knotted the game in the third when Tyler Adams reached on a fielder's choice, moved over two bases on Dylan Morris' hit to left and an error on the same play, then dashed home on a wild pitch.
In the fifth, the Red Raiders opened the floodgates. Dennis Beynor and Luke Besse drew walks before Adams executed a perfect bunt single down the third base line. Morris was hit by the very next pitch to plate the go-ahead run.
Walsh grounded into a 4-6-3 double play, but was able to bring home Besse. Mark Brodd followed with a run-scoring double to right, and Walsh capped the attack with an RBI single in the same direction to give the Red Raiders a commanding 5-1 lead.
Barnstable added its final run in the sixth thanks to back-to-back errors by the Knights –- one in the infield and one in the outfield -– allowing Besse to score.
The production proved more than enough for Nastasi, who got out of a two-on, one-out jam in the eighth, and induced a pair of ground balls plus a pop-up in the final frame to secure the win.
"Anybody is going to have a tough day against Willie when he's on, and he was on today," said DeMartino.
Nastasi's fielder's were also at the top of their game. Adams (at second base) and Derek Estes (at shortstop) finished with four assists, and Brodd (the third baseman) helped record the final two outs of the eighth.
As satisfying as the win was against CM, which blasted Barnstable 19-0 in the tournament two years ago, the Red Raiders put it past them shortly after the final put out.
"The last two years we've won the first game in the states then got bounced, so we know we've got some work to do, but we've got pitching," said DeMartino, who will hand the ball to strong-armed senior Keegan Dellacona on Tuesday. "And pitching is the best way you can win in the tournament."