Belchertown wins first for new baseball coach Curtis Orlik
SOUTH HADLEY — The first career coaching victory for new Belchertown baseball coach Curtis Orlik was memorable and significant.
Trailing the entire game, the Orioles scored four runs in the top of the seventh for a 7-5 victory over South Hadley that clinched a Western Massachusetts Division 2 Tournament berth.
“These guys battled extremely hard and were pretty resilient,” Orlik said. “I’m really proud of them. Sometimes for us, being down two can feel like 20 but they hung in there and by the seventh they realized they could come back. We started a little rough but picked it up as the game went along, especially after the first.”
Belchertown (3-11, 1-4 Suburban) assured itself of at least a .500 record against Division 2 competition.
“This is amazing, especially since we haven’t made the playoffs the last two years,” senior outfielder James Ryan said. “Coming into the seventh, we told each other that we’ve scored two runs in an inning before and we can do it again. Once we got going, the hits became contagious.”
Orlik, who played baseball for Tantasqua Regional and Saint Joseph’s College of Maine, served as assistant coach and took over after John Mayo resigned last Friday. The new coach’s first game was an 18-7 loss at Northampton on Tuesday.
“This is a pretty tough group of kids, and they’ve been upbeat the last few days,” Orlik said. “We talked about the situation and they asked me some questions about it, but we’ve moved on. Coach Mayo meant a lot to these kids and it’s too bad how that turned out. We’re still using the methods and ideals he instilled in us, and I’m not changing anything that he did.”
Ryan, who also played football for Mayo, said, “Coach Mayo is a phenomenal coach, the best I’ve ever had. That was true for football and I can say the same for baseball. It’s a shame we lost him, but he told me he felt it was the right time for him to step aside. The last two games have been difficult, but we rallied around it and got this big win.”
With one down in the seventh, Jonathan Mastalerz singled in Trevor Erb for what proved to be the winning run. Mastalerz finished 3-for-4 with three RBIs, including a two-run single in the fourth to cut the Belchertown deficit to 3-2.
“Jon had a huge day, he was right on the ball every time,” Orlik said. “Sometimes his confidence level gets a little low, so this is a big game for him. He got us back into it with that two-run hit before the hit to win it.”
Shortstop Eric Adzima (3-for-3, run) singled to lead off the seventh, then Ryan doubled deep down the right-field line to put the tying runs in scoring position with nobody out.
“I was just looking to put it in play hard, not try to overpower it,” Ryan said. “I didn’t want to pull it and where the ball ended up worked out perfectly. We had put the ball in play most of the game so it seemed to be just a matter of time before they fell in.”
Erb roped a single into left to even the score at 5-5. After Mastalerz put Belchertown ahead for the first time, Nick Leduc dropped a run-scoring single into shallow left field to plate an insurance run.
Tommy Daley battled through a complete-game win for Belchertown. The right-hander gave up just three earned runs on nine hits with three strikeouts. Despite five errors behind him, he kept the Orioles within three runs and their comeback hopes alive.
“Tommy’s been good for us all season,” Orlik said. “He hasn’t gotten great defense behind him for most of the year, but he battles through everything out there and always minimizes the damage.”
South Hadley starter Joe Ciolek held Belchertown to one single through the first three innings and received some help in the top of the first when center fielder Nate Flachs threw out Adzima at the plate.
Ciolek allowed two runs in the fourth and another in the fifth, but worked around two hits in the sixth to take a 5-3 lead into the seventh. Tigers coach Matt Foley took him out after the consecutive hits to begin the inning.
The junior righty gave up five runs (four earned) on nine hits over six-plus innings. He walked four and struck out two.
“Joe didn’t have his best stuff, but he battled hard and did enough to win the game,” Foley said. “I thought about taking him out before the seventh, but he got through the sixth and said he felt fine physically. But it’s hard to pitch when you know you don’t have your best stuff.”
Liam Murphy came on and surrendered the tying runs before giving up the go-ahead tallies in taking the loss.
The Tigers scored single runs in the first three innings, then added two more in the fourth. However, they stranded 11 runners on base, including leaving the bases loaded in the first.
“We had the game in hand, but Belchertown never let down and their bats heated up late in the game,” Foley said. “We had opportunities early to build a solid lead but couldn’t capitalize enough. It felt like we might be OK with the lead we had, but it could have been a lot more comfortable.”
Pat Sears enjoyed a perfect day at the plate, going 3-for-3 with a walk and a run scored. His one-out single in the fourth brought in Nate Flachs and Pedro Santiago to give South Hadley a 5-2 lead.
Ryan Klesczynski and Liam Medina (two hits) also had RBI singles in the loss. Santiago scored twice, while Nick Robert had two hits and scored once.
The defending state Division 2 champion Tigers (2-12, 0-4) can still qualify for postseason, but they’ll need to beat Palmer and Belchertown in their final two games of the season.
“That open opportunity will keep the morale up, but both those games are on the road so it will be tough for us,” Foley said. “But we’ve got a shot, which is all you can ask.”
Michael Wilkinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.