PLYMOUTH, Mass. -- The way P.J. Walsh’s curveball was dropping off the table on Tuesday afternoon, one would think it was Bridgewater-Raynham's seasoned staff ace Jack Connolly on the mound, rather than the junior making his first career varsity start.
As it turns out, the striking similarities between the two are no coincidence.
Walsh is a cousin of Connolly, a Notre Dame commit, and used that familiar Connolly breaking ball just as effectively, using it to strikeout nine New Bedford hitters over six-plus innings of work, paving the way for No. 6 B-R’s 3-1 win over the Whalers in the opening game of the Brad Martin Tournament.
“He had a little trouble location early on,” Trojan coach John Kearney said. “But once he started to find his breaking ball, because he had good velocity, the key was the breaking pitch. Once he started throwing where he wanted to, he was in command because it just set up his fastball.”
The win secures a spot in the Brad Martin Championship game on Friday, where the Trojans will faceoff with host Plymouth North on Thursday at 2 p.m. The Whalers earn a date with No. 10 Silver Lake in the consolation game at 11 a.m.
It is no secret that that curveball is a trademark in the Connolly family, passed down from generation to generation, and the bloodline carried over to Walsh on Tuesday.
The junior struck out the side in the first inning, and had the New Bedford lineup practicing its golf swing by living low in the zone.
“My cousin Jack, it’s always been in the family, that curveball he taught me and we’ve been working on that all offseason,” Walsh said.
Walsh allowed the one and only run in the first inning after issuing a leadoff walk to Chandler Debrosse. Following an errant throw on a pickoff attempt and a stolen base, Andrew Rapoza sent a hanging breaking ball down the line to give New Bedford an early 1-0 lead.
“The first inning my arm slot was a little off, so the next few innings I stared throwing more over the top and ripping it down and Jack (Connolly) was letting me know,” Walsh said after the game.
But from that point on, Walsh was in command, holding the Whalers scoreless over the next five innings while allowing just two hits and Connolly was a big reason why.
“He throws fairly hard but we know that New Bedford is a traditionally good fastball hitting team so we talked about how the breaking ball was going to be the key pitch,” Kearney explained.
Twice, Walsh found himself in minor jams but effectively worked his way out of trouble. A one-out double from Joe Carreiro in the third inning, and a two-out double by Debrosse in the fifth had the Whalers threatening, but the strikeout bailed him out in the third, before a fly-out in the fifth ended the threat.
Walsh came out in the top of the seventh gunning for the complete game, but hit his first batter with a 1-2 curveball, ending his day with a two-run lead.
Alex McGrath came in to close the door, striking out one batter to collect the save.
“We had already talked about it,” Kearney said. “The thinking was he had already thrown a lot of pitches in his first start, why toy with ruining a good start when we had Alex McCarthy warmed up.”
Speed kills: The Trojan offense isn’t the explosive juggernaut that they’ve been in recent years, but got what they needed from speedy leadoff hitter Colin Trahon.
B-R clubbed out six hits in the contest, with half the offense coming from the centerfielder in a 3-for-3 effort with a double and a triple.
After surrendering an early run to the Whalers, Walsh didn’t have to pitch with a deficit long. Trahon led off the bottom of the first with a single, and following a stolen base and a fielder’s choice, Trahon came around to score on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Cory Wasylow.
Trahon was only getting warmed up, as he doubled his next at bat, and tripled and scored in the fifth, which gave Walsh and the Trojans a 3-1 lead. Trahon scored the third B-R run when he came home on a sacrifice fly from two-hitter Mike Manning.
“He’s done that a lot this year, he has the tools, the speed and can hit,” Kearney said. “That’s why he’s at the top of the lineup and today he was our offensive spark, no questions about it.”
Bridgewater-Raynham nearly blew the lid off the game in the fourth inning when a single from Jon Livolsi, an error and a single from Connolly loaded the bases with no outs.
New Bedford pitcher Joe Carreiro (5 IP, six hits, four strikeouts, 3 earned runs) nearly wiggled out of the scenario unscathed with back-to-back strikeouts looking, but a four-pitch walk to Nick Andrews pushed across the go-ahead run before a strikeout ended the inning.
“That was the only disappointment, the bases loaded situation because we swung at some bad pitches to help the kid get out,” Kearney said. “It was the only point in the game where our offensive pitch selection was lacking.”