Division 3 baseball: Smith Academy overcomes brawl, extra innings to advance to championship
WESTFIELD — The Smith Academy baseball team faced a double dose of adversity in the bottom of the sixth in its Western Massachusetts Division 3 semifinal against top-seeded Monson Wednesday afternoon.
First, the Falcons lost their three-run lead, then lost their starting catcher to ejection following a bench-clearing brawl.
Three outs from elimination, the Falcons shook off any frustration to tie it up. They then withstood four extra frames and a number of Monson threats before claiming a 6-4 victory in 11 innings Wednesday afternoon at Westfield State University.
“This was definitely the wildest game I’ve ever played in,” senior third baseman Mike Molloy said.
Junior Keith Natale’s run-scoring single in the seventh knotted the game at 4-4. He threw 52∕3 innings of scoreless relief to pick up the win by leaving 10 runners on base, including three in a bases-loaded situation in the eighth.
“Crazy game, I’m just glad we could pull it out,” Natale said. “Every inning I pitched was pretty tough, but our team plays good defense and we got through it together. Knowing I couldn’t allow anything really kept me focused, and fortunately we got out of it every time.”
No. 5 Smith Academy (20-3) will face No. 3 Frontier Regional (17-6) in the sectional final at 1:45 p.m. Saturday at UMass. The Red Hawks demolished second-seeded St. Joseph 12-1 in Wednesday’s other semifinal.
“It feels great to be back in another western Mass. final,” said Natale, a member of the Falcons’ sectional champion basketball team and runner-up soccer squad. “If we bring our bats and maintain our solid defense, I think we have a chance against anyone.”
Monson ace Jon Fabrycki (eight strikeouts, five walks) eclipsed 150 pitches over 10 innings of work. The Falcons’ patience at the plate finally paid off when Fabrycki was lifted in the 11th in favor of freshman Nate Lobik.
Steve Bruscoe reached on an error to lead off, then Jojo Afflitto sacrificed him to second. With two outs, Molloy laced a single to left that brought Bruscoe around with the eventual game winner.
“I went up with an aggressive approach,” Molloy said. “Their pitcher fed me curveballs all day, so I waited for it and put all I had into the swing.”
David Longstreeth followed by stroking an RBI single up the middle for an insurance tally.
“Mike was a catalyst Monday against St. Mary, then came through again today,” Pluta said. “But it’s a great team effort with us all the time. This is a really loose group and they get after it in the games.”
Over the first five innings, the game’s star was Smith starter John Ferrara, who scattered six hits and gave up no runs. The left-handed eighth-grader bamboozled the impatient Mustangs with a sharp curveball and a sneaky fastball.
“My breaking ball broke better than it ever has and I did a nice job hitting my spots,” Ferrara said. “I want to give a lot of credit to (catcher) Cam (Woodward), who called the game for me. And I want to thank my teammates for both cheering me up after I came out and then getting the runs to win the game.”
However, the Monson sixth saw a walk, an error and three hits tie the game. With a runners on first and third with one out, Jake Dold laid down a squeeze bunt and Patrick Murphy beat the flip home by Ferrara.
After the play ended, Woodward and Murphy got into a shoving match which led to both benches emptying. Woodward and Murphy were ejected and had to leave the field.
“I’ve never been in a fight before in a baseball game,” Molloy said. “What I saw was Cam all by himself with their whole bench coming at him.”
When everything was sorted out, Pluta replaced Ferrara with Natale.
“Keith went out there with as much composure as any player for us all year,” Pluta said. “After all that happened, I knew it was the right time for the pitching change and I knew Keith would stay calm and have his wits about him. And after John threw mostly curve balls, Keith kept them off-balance with a harder fastball.”
Leading off the seventh, Molloy (2-for-4, two runs, RBI) walked on four pitches before stealing second and third on consecutive pitches. Natale brought him in with one of this three hits.
“We came together and stayed composed going into the seventh,” Natale said. “I came up looking for my pitch, and I got it on the first one.”
Smith Academy scored single runs on a wild pitch (second inning), a balk (third) and a bases-loaded walk (sixth) to build the 3-0 advantage.
Michael Wilkinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.