PLYMOUTH, Mass. -- Alex Rozak watched as the game's second batter, Dave McKinnon, took his fastball deep over the fences at Siever Field, to give visiting Oliver Ames a quick 2-0 lead over his Plymouth North squad.
Some pitchers might sweat after an early sequence like that. Rozak merely sighs.
Of course, it helps when the bats behind you plate a dozen runs two stanzas later. The UMass-bound senior righty and ace of the Blue Eagles' staff locked up the 23rd win of his high school career with the aid of a 12-run second inning, as they cruised to an easy 12-3 win over the Tigers (14-9) to make this their fifth consecutive trip to the Division 2 South Finals.
Rozak, the winning pitcher in last year's Division 2 state championship (North's second title in four years), is once again getting hot at the right time and taking command of the Eagles' (16-7) staff. This afternoon, he struck out six while allowing four hits and walking two; all three runs allowed were earned.
"Give him the ball and he battles," Eagles head coach Dwayne Follette said. "I thought he might of lost a little composure there when [Sullivan] took him deep, but he fought right back. They're very good 1 through 6, and we said keep the leadoff hitter off. I think he got rattled after he walked that kid [leadoff hitter Jim Sullivan] on 3-2 [first inning], but after that he settled down and dominated.
Follette added, "He got his splitter going today, I don't know if you guys noticed that. He looked great getting them to strike out on balls in the dirt. And really, that's the best he's thrown that pitch all year. When you're tired, you've got to go to something else, right? You're not going to blow everyone away with your fastball, especially at this level."
Rozak was noticeably confident in the pitch today, and it showed.
"Early in the game, the fastball wasn't really established -- I don't know why, maybe I wasn't warmed up enough," Rozak said. "So we started working the curveball in, and that wasn't working as best as it could, so we tried the splitter, and that was just on. So you kinda build off that and work backwards, instead of establishing the fastball first."
Bats Come Alive: For as long as Follette has been in charge, the Eagles have always hit the ball well. But this year's squad is a far cry from last year's row of mashers, led by ESPN Boston All-State catcher and Frankin Pierce freshman Matt Walsh (who is also suiting up for the Cape Cod League's Wareham Gatemen this summer).
As mentioned above, the Eagles plated all of their runs in a 16-at bat second inning, led by two-run singles each from Vinny Tavernelli, David Murphy and John Myette (3 RBI). But just like in their D2 South quarterfinal win over Dennis-Yarmouth, the runs were manufactured.
"We're fast and athletic," Follette said. "We've had six home runs all year, [whereas] most of our guys had six home runs on their own last year. We're totally different, but the kids are playing...I don't know what to say. I knew we could do it, but I'm thrilled to be here, to be honest with you."
Home field advantage: These two teams were supposed to play yesterday at Brockton's Campanelli Stadium. But when a rainstorm flooded the infield dirt making the field unplayable, and with the Brockton Rox set to play there tomorrow night, MIAA South Tournament Director Don Fredericks flipped a coin to decide on the host venue.
And you had to have the feeling once the coin landed in North's favor, sending this game to Siever, that this was going to be a tough one for the Tigers. It's not uncommon to see a packed bowl of stands circling behind the backstop from the first to third baselines, nor a packed row of parked cars on both sides stretching from one end of Liberty Street to the other, and all the other roads running parallel. Heck, today there were cars nestled near the Cazeault Roofing parking lot more a half mile away.
And the fans, some bare-chested with face paint, always seem to bring it. The crowd played a factor in last year's run to the state title; and with a well-traveling crowd heading to neutral sites from herein, it could once again be momentous.
"Coach didn't tell us anything yesterday other than 'See you here tomorrow', and we were fired up," Rozak said. "We thought our last home game [a first-round win over Stoughton] was the last game I'd ever play at Siever, so to be able to play here again was huge."