Division 3 baseball: Belchertown bests Easthampton to earn 1st title shot this century

For the Gazette
Published: 6/25/2021 9:21:42 PM

EASTHAMPTON — A generation's worth of players have suited up for Belchertown baseball since the program's last trip to a Western Mass. sectional final, but that's where the Orioles will be once again come Monday.

Sophomore lefthander Brady Perkins went the distance on a three-hit shutout and Chris Misiaszek drove in a pair of runs, pacing eighth-seeded Belchertown to a 5-0 shutout of Easthampton in a Division 3 semifinal Friday at Daley Field.

Perkins and Easthampton's Will Robbins matched zeroes through the first four innings before Belchertown broke the ice in the top of the fifth, taking a 1-0 lead. The Orioles (10-5) then made the game safe with a four-run uprising in the top of the seventh inning, and will now play in a Western Mass. final for the first time since 2000. They’ll travel to Pittsfield to take on second-seeded Taconic Monday at 4 p.m. Belchertown will go in search of its first WMass sectional title since 1999.

“We're an aggressive team, and those first two times through (the order), we were getting deeper into counts than usual,” said Belchertown coach Evan Berneche. “(Robbins) did a great job of getting first strikes with pitches away, then pounding the curveball in, and it was an adjustment period. That's what we're all about — we started to run our offense, run a lot and put pressure on the defense. We try to play fundamental baseball, but fast.”

Robbins retired the first two men he faced in the Belchertown fifth and it looked as though the fourth-seeded Eagles might keep the scoreless deadlock going, but the Orioles had other ideas with a simple two-out rally. Tyler Laramee reached on an infield single, stole second, and came around to score on Misiaszek's base hit to left. Misiaszek then moved into scoring position himself with a steal of second, but was left there when Eli Sayball-Wimmer struck out.

In the seventh, the Orioles’ Ryan Zawistowski led off with an infield single to deep short and swiped second base. Ryan Decoteau struck out, but No. 9 batter John Gelinas singled to right-center to score Zawistowski, and Laramee followed with a walk to end Robbins' day after 6 1/3 innings on the mound. Nick Lloyd relieved for Easthampton and was greeted by an RBI single to left by Misiaszek, plating Gelinas for a 3-0 lead.

Misiaszek took second on the throw and Belchertown filled the bases when Sayball-Wimmer was hit by a pitch. Tim Mitus reached on an infield out as Laramee scored, and Andrew Fijal dropped a single into left field to bring in Sayball-Wimmer with the fourth run of the frame. Mitus was retired trying to advance to third on the throw to the plate for the final out.

Meanwhile, Perkins had the Eagles under his thumb after allowing baserunners in each of the first four innings. Justin Colpack was the last Easthampton hitter to reach base, with a leadoff single to left in the fourth and a steal of second. Perkins then set down the last 12 Eagles he faced, including five strikeouts. He walked one, hit a batter and struck out nine in his complete-game outing.

“If you look at (Perkins), you wouldn't see anything intimidating. But he's an intense kid, and that showed today,” said Berneche. “He just knows how to pitch. That was his fifth win, he's 5-0, and I'm glad I've got him for two more years.”

“Getting the big hit has been somewhat of a ghost for us. It appears and then it disappears,” said Eagles coach Ed Zuchowski. “Today we had opportunities, especially early in the game, and we couldn't get that hit. I think it would have changed the momentum a little bit if we could have gotten them on their heels. Perkins just settled down and pitched really well."

Robbins allowed five hits with two walks and 11 punchouts. Lloyd (double), Colpack and Matt Damon had the three hits on the afternoon for the Eagles.

“By far, that was Will Robbins' best performance of the year,” said Zuchowski. “He was really dealing, he stretched himself well beyond today, and he pitched a gem. It's tough to come out on the other end of a game like this with a loss.”

Easthampton finished the year at 11-4 and one win short of its first sectional final appearance since 2011. It's now been 38 years since the Eagles' last WMass baseball title, dating back to 1983.

“These guys put this team first and they made sacrifices well beyond anything that I could have imagined to be here,” said Zuchowski. “We lose one senior, and what I hope to see in the next few weeks, and the next school year, is that these guys are still together as much as they are right now. We're intact and we should be back and compete again next year."

When Belchertown reached back-to-back sectional finals in 1999 and 2000, that was in Division 2, which no longer exists outside of Eastern Mass. Now the Orioles face a highly regarded Taconic squad that's 16-0 after bouncing Southwick 10-2 in Friday's other semifinal, and has won three straight WMass titles — in Division I in 2017 and Division III in 2018 and 2019.

“I got hired last year during COVID, and I got to sit on the thought of being coach for a whole year without doing anything. So this has been in my head,” said Berneche. “The goal all season was to be over. 500, and then win a playoff game, and then win each game from there on out. I think a lot of people underestimated us. We've played quality opponents all year, which got us ready for this.”

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