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John Grimaldi, Northampton squeeze South Hadley baseball

  • John Grimaldi, right, of Northampton, dives safely back to first base Friday as Patrick Sears, of South Hadley, attempts to tag him at Northampton.<br/>SARAH CROSBY

    John Grimaldi, right, of Northampton, dives safely back to first base Friday as Patrick Sears, of South Hadley, attempts to tag him at Northampton.
    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Joe Warner, of Northampton, delivers a pitch to South Hadley Friday at Northampton.<br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Joe Warner, of Northampton, delivers a pitch to South Hadley Friday at Northampton.
    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jay Wright, right, of Northampton, reaches first base safely Friday as Patrick Sears, of South Hadley, attempts to catch the ball.<br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Jay Wright, right, of Northampton, reaches first base safely Friday as Patrick Sears, of South Hadley, attempts to catch the ball.
    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • John Grimaldi, right, of Northampton, dives safely back to first base Friday as Patrick Sears, of South Hadley, attempts to tag him at Northampton.<br/>SARAH CROSBY

    John Grimaldi, right, of Northampton, dives safely back to first base Friday as Patrick Sears, of South Hadley, attempts to tag him at Northampton.
    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • John Grimaldi, right, of Northampton, dives safely back to first base Friday as Patrick Sears, of South Hadley, attempts to tag him at Northampton.<br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Joe Warner, of Northampton, delivers a pitch to South Hadley Friday at Northampton.<br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Jay Wright, right, of Northampton, reaches first base safely Friday as Patrick Sears, of South Hadley, attempts to catch the ball.<br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • John Grimaldi, right, of Northampton, dives safely back to first base Friday as Patrick Sears, of South Hadley, attempts to tag him at Northampton.<br/>SARAH CROSBY

NORTHAMPTON — John Grimaldi dug into the batter’s box knowing exactly what he needed to do.

And his opponent knew exactly what he needed to do, too. So when South Hadley baseball coach Matt Foley gathered his infield for a meeting before the one-out, fifth inning at-bat with a runner on third and the game tied, he made sure his players were prepared for the inevitable play — the suicide squeeze.

“The play ahead of time was ‘Choke up and swing until you get to two strikes,’” Grimaldi said, “‘and then you’re gonna squeeze.’”

The Northampton catcher laid the bunt down perfectly, scoring Mack Hale on a dusty, dirt-clouded play at the plate.

“(I) just kept my arms extended, as coach always says in batting practice, and just let it come to me,” Grimaldi said of the Blue Devils’ manufactured run-scoring play, which was the difference in their 3-2 win over the Tigers on Friday.

Northampton (5-5, 1-0 Suburban) coach Mark Baldwin, who’s faced off against Foley and his South Hadley (1-8, 0-1) squad countless times over the past 15 years, said the squeeze was a play he’s pulled out with decreasing frequency against his old rival in recent years, but that he was still confident it would work.

“That was the play all along,” he said. “We would’ve taken a sac fly or a hard grounder, but that didn’t happen. So, (John) knew ahead of time. And it was perfect.”

With Northampton starter Joe Warner and his Tigers counterpart Joe Ciolek mixing pitches and keeping hitters off balance, Foley knew the outcome would be decided by whichever team executed at the right time.

“I think Northampton executed on fundamental baseball plays and we didn’t,” he said. “There were a couple plays when they scored their runs. They need the base hit, they get the base hit. They got the bunt down when they needed the bunt down. I think both pitchers dueled each other and the difference was whoever was gonna play the game of baseball.”

With Warner (seven innings, five hits, three strikeouts) and Ciolek (six innings, six hits, six strikeouts) dealing, hard hits and balls out of the infield were difficult to come by.

“I thought both pitchers pitched really well today,” Foley said. “I thought that they commanded the game and they pitched well.”

Baldwin was especially pleased with the progress his pitcher has displayed.

“I liked Joe’s toughness, and I liked the fact that, compared to the beginning of the year, his rhythm is much better,” Baldwin said. “He’s commanding the strike zone much better, so when he wanted to throw the high, 0-2 pitch at the end (of the game, he could).”

Added Warner, “The curve was breaking, I was hitting my spots and I just know to throw strikes with this type of infield and outfield.”

The Blue Devils jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first on an RBI groundout by Zack Goodwin-Boyd that scored Jay Wright, setting the stage for a back-and-forth game of small ball.

The teams then exchanged four single-run frames, highlighted by South Hadley’s own successful squeeze attempt in the second. After fielding the bunt by Sean O’Connor, Warner opted to make the sure out at first rather than try for a play at the plate, a strategy his coach said was the right call that early in the game.

In the fourth, Goodwin-Boyd was hit by a pitch and came around to score on a bloop single to center field, followed by an RBI groundout with the bases loaded by the Tigers’ Patrick Sears in the fifth.

Fighting through fatigue, Warner closed out the fifth-inning scoring threat by attacking hitters inside, eventually inducing a big swinging strikeout that excited the crowd and his teammates.

Baldwin said the win fit the script of how matchups with South Hadley usually play out.

Foley “knows that we’re gonna come out and throw strikes and catch the ball, and (we know) they’re gonna come out and throw strikes and catch the ball,” Baldwin said. “And whoever scratches out the one extra run, that’s usually how it goes down.”

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