South Hadley pulls away from Deerfield late, wins Mickey Mantle championship

Last modified: Saturday, September 13, 2014
DEERFIELD — In what was shaping up to be a pitcher’s duel through six innings, South Hadley’s offense eventually came around and put up five runs in the top of the seventh to seal its Mickey Mantle Pioneer Valley Youth Baseball League championship with a 7-5 win over Deerfield Thursday.

At the end of six innings, South Hadley starter Alex Dragon had stranded six runners in scoring position as South Hadley clung to a 2-1 lead. Dragon fired a complete game, allowing five hits and four earned runs while striking out three and walking five.

With one out in the seventh, Thomas Shea laid down a bunt that Deerfield pitcher Quinn Doyle fielded cleanly and threw in time to first. However, the throw sailed up the right-field line and Shea moved to third on the error. After Nehemiah Wilson was intentionally walked and stole second, Nick Simon stepped to the plate and delivered a double that put South Hadley ahead 4-1.

“My coach told me to move up in the box so that the pitch would come in a little higher, which is where I like it,” Simon said. “I was in a slump so it was nice to start hitting again, especially at the right time.”

South Hadley continued to add insurance runs, including a two-out, two-run double from Brian Bak that ended up being the deciding blow to Deerfield. Bak finished with two hits and two RBIs, while Ryan Mooney also contributed two hits and two runs for South Hadley.

“Everybody on the bench was just going crazy after” Simon’s hit, Dragon said. “We all ran out and gave him high-fives as soon as he came in. Those runs meant everything to me. It gave me a little bit of leniency to put the ball over and give up a couple of hits in that last inning.”

Deerfield didn’t go down easily in the seventh, loading the bases two outs away from elimination before Kevin Banas roped a two-run double down the right-field line. Following an RBI groundout to second by Kade Gewanter, Banas came around to score on a wild pitch to pull Deerfield within two. After a walk put the tying run at the plate, Dragon got Ben Bruscoe to fly out to right to clinch the title.

“To be able to fight through that last inning and win it, that felt amazing,” Dragon said.

South Hadley and Deerfield played three games against each other before Thursday’s matchup, including a second-round double-elimination game where South Hadley upset the top-seeded Deerfield squad 6-4.

“It was just so satisfying for the kids because they’ve been working so hard all year,” South Hadley coach Kevin Foley said. “This core group of kids has been together for a while, and they kind of struggled coming up. I could see their development through the year and it seemed like they were getting closer and closer, and this season they really came together with some additional players.”

The game looked to be a defensive battle, with the first couple of innings highlighted by small ball and strong play in the field from both sides. South Hadley looked to score the first run of the game in the first inning, but Justin Kleeberg was gunned down at the plate trying to tag on a fly ball to Deerfield left fielder Trevor Mankowsky.

“Deerfield is a great baseball team,” Foley said. “They’re extremely solid defensively. They’re well-disciplined, have a couple of good hitters, and they’re extremely well-coached. I knew they weren’t going to go down without a fight. They were going to scratch and claw and do whatever they could to get back in this ballgame, and it’s just a testament to their coaching staff and to their kids and how hard they work. They do it with the utmost class, so it’s a pleasure to play against them.”

After Noah Barnes led off the third with a bunt single, he stole second and moved to third on a groundout back to Dragon. Barnes later scored the first run of the game on a sacrifice fly by Seth Gewanter.

South Hadley responded with a two-run fourth, highlighted by a two-out go-ahead single from Shea. Deerfield loaded the bases with just one out in the bottom of the inning, but Dragon escaped the jam by getting Barnes to pop out and fanning Mankowsky.

“We had a really good year,” Deerfield coach Brett Gewanter said. “(South Hadley) really seemed to play better as the season went on, and Alex was just dynamite tonight. He had a great fastball and we really didn’t do anything offensively against him.”

Both teams suffered injuries to key starters before the championship game, forcing players to play out of position during the season’s final stretch. While South Hadley lost one of its top hitters, Mario Olivera, to a torn groin muscle on Sunday, Deerfield was without its usual catcher, who separated his shoulder earlier in the year.

“I think the best way to characterize this team is the word ‘team,’” Foley said. “We talked a bunch all season long about everybody doing their job to be successful, and they embraced that. No one was selfish, and no one was looking out for themselves.”

South Hadley 7, Deerfield 4

South Hadley 000 200 5—7 7 3

Deerfield 001 000 4—5 5 2

WP - Dragon; LP - Doyle