BROCKTON, Mass. – The first time Old Colony League rivals Taunton and Barnstable squared off, in late April, Barnstable hurler Willie Nastasi struck out a career-high 16 batters, and later ignited some controversy nationally with his 155-pitch count.
The second time the two battled, on the last weekend of the season and with the outright OCL title on the line, Barnstable wasted the Tigers, 14-2.
Meeting No. 3, in the semifinals of the Division 1 South tournament this afternoon at Campanelli Stadium was...well, to call it a charm wouldn’t be just cliché. It’d be unfitting.
The UConn-bound Nastasi was brilliant again on the hill for the Red Raiders, fanning eight and scattering just two hits in 7.1 innings of work. But the Tigers deployed some of the same small-ball principles that won them two games in this tournament already, and got stellar defense behind starter Danny Pedro, to squeeze out a 3-0 win and advance to tomorrow’s South final.
Eighth-seeded Taunton (18-5) will face No. 15 seed Xaverian (15-8) in tomorrow’s final at Braintree High, at 4 p.m. Barnstable ended its season 16-5.
“This, it can’t any better for the team,” Taunton head coach Jeff Sylvia said. “We played with confidence. They know us, we know them. I think they woke us up the last time we played them [the 14-2 loss], and we’ve changed that philosophy since that game a little bit. The pitching was great, defense was great, and we got timely hitting today, which was huge.”
Part of that philosophical change has been a more aggressive approach in the batter’s box and the basepath. In the Tigers’ first-round win over Braintree, for instance, Zach Grady took two bags on a bunt, beating the tag at third base with a head-first slide; he was brought home the next at bat with a Joe Walsh blast to center, making it 2-0 and shifting momentum in their favor.
This afternoon, Walsh was pivotal again. The Old Colony League Co-MVP took a Nastasi pitch off his back on the first pitch, to lead off the bottom of the fourth inning. On the very next pitch, Matt Maclean hit a shot to deep center, and Walsh sprinted all the way from first to home.
“I was pissed I didn’t get to hit, that’s the first time I’ve gotten hit all season,” Walsh laughed. “But we had faith in our four-hitter [Maclean], and I knew he was going to come through.”
Walsh gave the Tigers insurance in the eighth. First, Travis Ritchie slapped a slow roller into the infield grass, but beat out the potential 3-1 putout at first to score Grady. Two at bats later, Walsh planted a first-pitch slider into right field to score Ritchie, before getting thrown out at second on a 9-6, trying to take an extra base, for the second out of the inning but a 3-0 lead.
“I had struck out on it at home [last month, on that pitch],” Walsh said. “I knew I had that pitch. I knew whatever he was throwing me on that first pitch, I was ready to hit.”
Said Sylvia, “Joey Walsh has been doing that for us all year. He’s been an RBI machine. He’s big. He was the right guy on at the right time.”
Pedro Productive: Sylvia said he was looking for six innings out of Pedro today. The junior righty ended up giving them seven, scattering five hits while walking one and fanning two.
Pedro’s best inning might have been the second, when the Raiders loaded the bases up on a walk to Derek Estes. After Estes walked, Pedro jammed Dennis Beynor with a 1-1 fastball that trickled to shortstop Chris Roumbakis, who easily made the inning-ending 6-4 play.
Walsh said Pedro’s fastball was moving today “better than I’ve ever seen it before.”
“Danny Pedro pitched outstanding today,” Sylvia said. “He kept the ball down, pitched ahead of hitters. We wanted six, he gave us seven, and then Matt Nunes came in and did the job...Getting out of that [second inning] gave us a lot of confidence.”
Rumblin’ Roumbakis: When Roumbakis fumbled an Everett Walsh grounder to his left in the top of the fourth, allowing the No. 6 hitter to reach safely, it was his first error in three playoff games. And that might have been the only time in these playoffs he didn’t field the ball cleanly; the senior shortstop, known for his fancy back-handed snags, has been phenomenal throughout the postseason.
“I think he got eaten up a bit with the top spin on the left hand, but we’ll take it,” Sylvia laughed. “He makes every other play.”
Sylvia continued, “He’s been my starting shortstop since his sophomore year, and he’s done really well. Again, our strength is defense. We put it together today, and hopefully we can keep it going.”
Nastasi goes out on top: In two starts this year against Taunton, Nastasi has struck out 24 batters and allowed five hits in 15 innings. Mixing in his off-speed with his high-80’s fastball cleanly, it was an effort that he won’t soon hang his head.
“He did exactly what we needed him to do,” Barnstable head coach Joe DeMartino said. “Our pitchers, especially Willie and Keegan [Dellacona], they go out and they give us a chance to win. We just didn’t get it done today.”
Dellacona came in to relieve Nastasi in the eighth, and DeMartino said afterwards, “I knew he could handle 30 or 40 pitches, and come back tomorrow if we made it.”