BROCKTON, Mass. — Coming into the season, King Philip junior Tommy Martorano had high expectations but an injury in his first start of the season back in early April derailed his plans, forcing him to watch the entire regular season from the sidelines.
After two relief appearances earlier in the tournament, Martorano earned the start in the Division 2 state semifinals against rival Mansfield, and the left-handed pitcher delivered.
He tossed a complete game shutout, allowing just one hit and a pair of walks while striking out 12 as the Warriors edged out the Hornets, 1-0, for a spot in the D2 state championship game this weekend.
“We knew it wasn’t too serious of an injury early on but he was going to need the whole season to get back into form,” said King Philip head coach Jeff Plympton. “We wanted to get him into some games early on [in the tournament] and he was pumping, he was doing well so I just asked him, and I said do you want the ball for the semis and he lit up like a Christmas tree.
“We watched him in practice, he was painting those corners so we wanted to give him a chance and put him out for a game. I was hoping for at least four [innings] and then go from there but he was electric today, just the one hit. He had a few curveball strikes but he really had that fastball going. We were planning on going with him until he couldn’t go anymore.”
Martorano was on from the get-go, retiring the Hornets in order on 15 pitches in the top of the first order, his first strikeout coming on the third out. He didn’t retire the side in order again until the final inning, striking out all three Hornets to end the game, but he also didn’t let a runner advance past second.
“I felt pretty good in the relief appearances so I was telling coach that I was ready for a start, I was ready to go,” Martorano said. “I love being out there with my guys and now we get to play for a state championship.
“I was pumped to get back. I had a timeline to get back for the playoffs and when I was ready to come back, I made sure I was ready to help the team out and go as far as we could. We really wanted this game and now we’re ready to roll for the next one.”
Martorano’s counterpart, Mansfield senior Aaron Blinn, also had a stellar performance on the mound backed up by solid defense from the Hornets in the field and Aiden Jones behind the dish. He scattered eight hits over six innings of work, striking out four without issuing a walk.
After a clean first inning from both, Martorano worked around a leadoff walk with back-to-back strikeouts and a fly ball in the top of the second. Juniors Brendan Sencaj and Rudy Gately had the first two hits of the game, and mixed in with a balk and a stolen base, the Warriors had runners on second and third with no outs but Blinn bunkered down with a strikeout and two shallow fly balls.
The third inning presented both teams with a chance to break through on the scoreboard, but only the Warriors were able to cash in.
In the bottom half, sophomore Max Robison had a one-out single, but after Matt Kelley followed with a single, the Hornets got Robison at third after a heavy round of the bag. The rundown did allow Kelley to move to second to keep a runner in scoring position, and with two outs, senior Shawn Legere came through in the clutch with an RBI single up the middle for a 1-0 lead.
“Shawn’s great…honestly, probably the best hitter to probably come through the King Philip program,” Plympton said. Legere was third in the Hock this regular season in average and was third in the league in hits as a junior. “He was just a little short for the best average in team history but he’s so confident, whatever the count is, doesn’t matter if it’s a fastball, a curveball, a changeup, a 3-2 count… he’s ready to go whenever.”
Mansfield got the leadoff runner on in Jake Maydak in the top of the fourth after an infield throwing error but Martorano quickly fielded the sac bunt in the next at-bat, and Robison alertly saw the runner taking off for an extra base at third and fired it over to Sean Sullivan, who applied the tag just before the slide. Another strikeout gave KP the third out.
Eli Reed had a one-out single in the bottom of the fifth, stole second, and took third on a ground out from Robison but Blinn didn’t allow him to go any further with a strikeout to end the inning.
“When you’re playing in the state tournament, every game is going to be close,” said Mansfield head coach Chris Hall. “We knew it was going to be a battle, already playing each other twice this year, and that’s exactly what it was. Martorano came out and pitched his tail off and I thought Aaron Blinn pitched incredibly on the mound and we played a clean game. But it comes down to that one run and they got it and we didn’t.
“But that can’t take away from what we achieved this year. I don’t think anyone in the state had us making it to the Final Four in Division 2, especially after starting off 1-4, but we’re here. I can’t say enough great things about this team. I’m very proud of this senior class for how they competed today and all year, such a huge positive. As far as I could find, I think this is the farthest any Mansfield team has gone so I’m just so proud.”
The Hornets got a final base runner on after an error in the top of the sixth, but once again Martorano came up with a strikeout to end the inning. Sencaj had one-out single in the bottom half to try and extend KP’s lead but was forced out at second on a fielder’s choice on a grounder from Gately. With the hit-and-run on, Travis Crawford drove one to center for a single from Mansfield center fielder Jared Fraone came firing and hit third baseman Jimmy Gilleran and he got the tag down to get the third out.
“The Hockomock League in general is tough, I think it’s the best league in the state,” Plympton said. “Blinn was fantastic, he dealt a good game. He shined, and he’s accurate and does a good job keeping guys off balance. Getting him for a third time, I was hoping that we’d be on him a bit more but he came out ready to go and he wanted it just as much as we did, it made for a good game.”
The Warriors, who won just three of its final eight games, have seemed to rediscover their form from the beginning of the season (seven wins in the first eight games) and now head into the D2 state championship against top-seed Milton riding a four-game winning stream.
“They’re a fun group to be around,” Plympton said. “There’s never a dull moment at practice and there’s a lot of talent on the team too. They can hit the heck out of the ball. I just have a smile on every time I’m with them, it’s great to come this far because they’re great to be around.”
King Philip baseball and Milton are scheduled to face off on Saturday at Fitton Field on the campus of Holy Cross with the first pitch scheduled for 6:00.
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