WEST SPRINGFIELD -- For East Longmeadow, it was about doing what it had to do. And Today, what the Spartans had to do was to win convincingly over a non-playoff team.
Consider that mission accomplished.
The Spartans used a sound five-inning effort from starter Caleb Berard and an offensive onslaught that included 13 hits, to win with ease, 11-1, over West Springfield.
The win, of course, improves the Spartans -- considered the team to beat in Western Mass. as the postseason creeps closer and closer -- to an impressive 16-1. And perhaps even more importantly, it comes a week after East Longmeadow suffered its first and only loss of the season to Cathedral.
The youthful Spartans, who weren’t considered a favorite entering the year due to massive turnover caused by graduation, including the loss of three scholarship players, proved evermore that they can recover from low points.
“You never know with a game like this,” said head coach Scott Whelihan. “This felt like a trap game. We were a little tight after the loss and I felt that coming in today too. But they battled. They always do.”
Berard struggled early, walking two batters and hitting the bases loaded with no outs in the first inning. He found a way to settle down, though, and escaped the jam having allowed just one run. The recovered form stuck with him throughout as he scattered just two hits and struck out seven while showcasing a nasty, biting slider that devastated the Terriers’ lineup.
Berard allowed just three baserunners in the middle innings of his start and escaped a two-on, no-out jam in his fifth and final frame.
“The slider was working great,” said Berard, who improved to 5-0 on the season. “I felt good after the first inning and always get stronger as the innings go on.”
The Spartans offense showed pop and execution as it collected 13 hits. What’s more, East Longmeadow -- which has rode to its impressive heights on the strength of its pitching staff --- showed a knack for handling the bat in various situations. Indeed, a sight to strike fear in the other Division I contenders.
“I had a feeling we were going to hit today,” Whelihan said.
Leadoff man Nick Lambert had two hits, two steals and a run scored to spark the top of the lineup. Reed Phillips, who hit for Berard, was 3-for-4 with an RBI. Vinnie Calcasosa had two hits and an RBI while smooth-fielding third baseman Nate Anderson was 2-for-4 with three RBI.
BOUNCING BACK TO FORM
The adversity has been few and far between for the Spartans this season. After winning their first 14 games, perennial contender in the region Cathedral halted the streak and took away any thoughts of a perfect season.
But East Longemeadow has bounced back well. The Spartans defeated Chicopee, 4-3, on Friday and took care of business Tuesday at West Side. It appears the loss may have done them well.
“Oh we learned a lot,” said Whelihan. “We learned to never give up and these guys don’t. In that game, they never got down and we were down early against Chicopee.
“They’ve played hard and as a team all season.”
Prior to the Cathedral loss, East Longmeadow had only played in five games that could be considered "close". The loss and subsequent one-run win over Chicopee have shown head coach Whelihan and Co. the importance of being able to win in the clutch, especially as the postseason nears.
“We’ve been playing small ball and trying to execute," Whelihan said. "We’re really trying to get ready for the playoffs. It’s time to execute.”
WILD EARLY, ACCURATE LATE
Berard took some time to find his ground, struggling with control early on.
The junior southpaw walked the first two batters and hit Andre Marrero to load the bases before finding his groove.
“Early on, I went to the mound and told him to just do what he does,” Whelihan said. “I told him the team has faith in him and he settled down.”
To say that he got comfortable would be a major understatement. Berard retired the next three batters in succession, limiting the first-inning damage.
He struck out Brandon Magnil, got Sam Doucette to ground out and fanned Mark Couture -- ending the major threat and limiting the damage.
“I always start like that,” Berard said. “I don’t know what it is. After the first inning, I was able to throw on the side and I felt good going back out there.”
The lefty was dominant through the second, third and fourth innings, allowing just three base runners before getting into and out of a jam in the fifth.
“I just tried to focus and throw strikes,” he said. “I can’t worry about it. I just have to let my defense make plays.”