By Lance Reynolds, HockomockSports.com Contributor
STOUGHTON, Mass. – They did it all regular season, and on Saturday afternoon, they did it again, this time in the postseason.
Justin Hutchinson orchestrated a masterpiece on the mound while Jack Connelly backed his pitcher up with the biggest hit of the season to guide Stoughton past Hopkinton with a 2-1 victory.
Hutchinson delivered a complete game performance striking out 11 while allowing just six hits and three walks. The right-hander recorded at least two strike outs in the second, fourth, fifth, and sixth innings with only three Hiller baserunners reaching third.
“Hutch has been doing it for us all year. He gutted it out – his curveball was working today, he mixed it up,” Stoughton head coach Mike Armour said. “Hopkinton played a hell of a game, their kid threw a hell of a game – it was an absolute war out there.”
The Black Knights saw themselves down one entering the bottom of the sixth, but they were determined to get the run support that Hutchinson had so rightfully earned. After Hopkinton retired the leadoff hitter, shortstop Doug Seamen started things with an infield single to the shortstop hole.
The Hillers looked like they were on the way to picking up the second out on a Jake Gibb grounder that got under a diving Chris Burdick at third and into the glove of shortstop Jack Vaccari. However, Hopkinton’s first baseman couldn’t secure the throw allowing Gibb to reach and Seamen to land at third with one out.
Matt Gallagher came in as a pinch runner for Gibb before Connelly stepped up to the plate. Like the junior first baseman has done all season, Connelly belted the most important hit of the contest to ultimately decide the Black Knights’ fate. On the first pitch of the at-bat, Connelly ripped a shot into deep center driving in Seamen and Gallagher for the game-winning two runs.
“I was looking for something middle in – something in my wheelhouse – like I’ve been doing all year, and grateful that I got my bat on the ball,” Connelly said. “Hats off to that pitcher – he hits his spots well, had a lot of gas behind his fastball. I think we overcame that and it shows the motivation that we have as a team and how we pick each other up.”
“Jack Connelly coming through and has been doing it all year for us – coming through and driving in the tying or go-ahead runs in the bottom of the sixth, that’s what you play for,” Armour said. “He’s a great kid, so I couldn’t be any happier.”
With Stoughton ahead 2-1 and the top of Hopkinton’s lineup due up, Armour elected to stick with Hutchinson for the seventh. The gamble was well-worth it as the starter induced two grounders and struck out his eleventh batter for the last out in the opening round of the tourney.
“He’s been our guy. It was his opportunity to shut it down. He threw a lot of pitches, but I think Hutch has earned the right this season,” Armour said. “He’s been our guy so he earned the right to close.”
After placing runners on base in each of the first five innings without producing a run, the Hillers knocked in the game’s opening run in the sixth. Burdick reached base on a walk, got to second on a sacrifice bunt, and came across the plate as Tom Onsi helped his own cause with a single to center.
Besides that blemish, Hutchinson continued his season-long success on the mound.
“He’s been pitching his ass off all year long,” Connelly said of his teammate. “You couldn’t really expect anything else from him. He’s been lights out all year. I’m glad to have him as a teammate, and I hope this train keeps rolling.”
Opposing Hutchinson, Onsi was equally as dominant. The Hiller starter was unhittable in the first three innings besides mistakes coming on an issued hit batter and base on balls. Connelly spoiled his no-hit effort in the bottom of the fourth with a single to right.
“He pitched a great game. He had us off balance and kept us in check,” Armour said of facing Onsi.
Failing to reach the tournament in 2015, fourth-seeded Stoughton (16-6) is not thinking of the past and has its eyes on the future. The next step in the future comes on Tuesday when the Black Knights host fifth-seeded Nauset in a quarterfinal matchup.
“Our goal is to have success in the tournament – this is the first step,” Armour said. “We have some work to do and have some things to tighten up if we’re going to get another ‘W’ on Tuesday.”
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