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Division 3 baseball: Austin Rogers’ walk-off pushes Smith Academy past Sabis

HATFIELD — Austin Rogers spends a lot of time hitting off a tee, working on his plate coverage.

After a slow start to the 2013 season, the Smith Academy baseball left-hander focused on hitting the ball to the opposite field and all that work was rewarded with the sophomore’s first-ever walk-off hit in Thursday’s 5-4 win over Sabis in the first round of the Western Massachusetts Division 3 Tournament.

Rogers “just lives off the tee,” coach Jeff Pulta said. “Austin is a guy who pulls everything out when he hits and it forced him to pop up a lot. So we’ve worked with him on keeping his upper half over the plate. As a coach, it is great to see that.”

Rogers’ smacked a single to left field with one out in the bottom of the seventh to score Keith Natale for the game winner and was mobbed on the field by his teammates.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like that,” Rogers said. “That was amazing.”

The No. 5 Falcons (18-3) advance to play at Tri-County rival No. 4 St. Mary (19-2) in the quarterfinals at Bullens Field in Westfield at 7 p.m.

“We wanted to play them,” said Rogers, whose team split the regular season series with the Saints, including a 2-1 win in the regular season finale. “When we saw the seeding and the way everything lined up, we wanted them to win so we could play them again. We like playing against them. They are a good team. They always play us well. We are definitely looking forward to playing them.”

No. 12 Sabis (14-7) erased a 4-1 Falcons lead with one run in the fifth and two more in the sixth.

Trailing 4-2 in the top of the sixth, the Bulldogs loaded the bases with no outs, prompting Pulta to pull starter Keith Natale (five-plus innings, four runs, three earned, five strikeouts, eight hits, one walk) for staff ace David Longstreeth.

Longstreeth struck out the first two batters he faced, but Leonard Denette fisted a bloop single to center to score two runs and tie the game at 4-4.

Longstreeth then retired the next four batters he faced to earn the win in relief. He had four strikeouts and no walks.

“I felt pretty strong,” Natale said. “You have to give them credit. They are a good hitting team. And you have to credit Dave. He came in and pitched well for us.”

Pulta said the combination of Longstreeth being under the weather and Natale having dominated the Bulldogs in the regular season led the to the decision to start the junior righty.

“Keith threw a two-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts against these guys last time, so we went with Keith knowing we could turn to David today,” the second-year coach said. “David has been sick. and Keith did well last time, so that made the decision to throw him over David that much easier. David did a good job, too, especially with how he’s been feeling.”

Pulta said he expects Longstreeth to be ready to go Monday.

Natale started the seventh inning with a single up the middle and then took second on a sacrifice bunt by Christian Smiarowski, leading to Rogers’ heroics.

“We haven’t had to bunt” Pulta said. “That was the third sac bunt of the year for us. We scored 190 runs in 20 games, so we never need to bunt. But we do work on it every single day, so I’m glad that paid off.”

Smith Academy scored once in the first inning when Jojo Afflitto drew a leadoff walk and scored on a long double by Longstreeth down the left field line. The Falcons then scored once in the second when Tony Pedruczny was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded for a 2-1 lead.

Smith doubled its scoring output in the third when Longstreeth drew a leadoff walk and Natale singled to center. After two outs, Woodward singled down the right field line to score both runners.

Stevie Bruscoe (double), Longstreeth, Rogers and Natale each had two hits for Smith.

Jim Pignatiello can be reached at jpignatiello@gazettenet.com.

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