NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. – North Attleboro lead-off hitter Kyle McCarthy started Monday afternoon’s game at Community Field with a base hit off Taunton ace Luke Figueira. Two batters later, McCarthy was doubled up trying to take third on a groundout.
That would be the last base runner the Rocketeers would get.
Figueira was dealing on Monday, hitting spots and changing speeds. He faced the minimum of 21 batters, setting down the final 20 in a row, allowing just the one hit and striking out five in seven shutout innings, as Taunton pulled out a 5-0 victory to split the season series with North.
“Honestly, I became a fan today,” said Taunton coach Jeff Sylvia about watching his starting pitcher work through the North lineup.
“We have a lot of confidence with him on the mound. Every time he takes the ball our team has a little cockiness and a little swag.”
The Bentley University-commit admitted that he had to figure out the mound in the first inning but once he got his mechanics right he felt comfortable with his approach, especially using his off-speed stuff to keep the Rockeeters off-balance.
“So far this year my curveball has been pretty good,” Figueira said. “Last year, I was throwing fastballs 90 percent of the time and my off-speed has been much better. I’ve been trying to really hit my spots this year.”
He consistently got ahead of the Rocketeers hitters, mixing his fastball and breaking ball, and that allowed him to focus on hitting spots rather than trying to blow batters away. Of course, he could also rear back when he wanted, striking out the final batter in the second, third, and fourth innings.
“It didn’t seem like he was overpowering us, but he mixed his pitches very well and he kept the ball away,” said North Attleboro coach Paul Tobin. “It was curveball away and fastball away and we didn’t adjust.”
The Tigers also made the plays behind their starter, highlighted by shortstop Brendon Mazzerolle’s pick of a sinking line drive off the bat of John Brennan in the sixth. Mazzerolle got up from his knees and fired a strike to get Brennan by a step at first.
“It gives you confidence and makes you really pound the zone,” said Figueira about the Taunton defense. “The big goal is to get ahead and then there wasn’t too much solid contact and when there was the defense made plays.”
North Attleboro starter Andy Katch, who allowed four runs but only one earned, did not get as much help from the defense and those couple mistakes would give Taunton the offense it needed to pull out the win.
The game was scoreless to the third. Matt Machado reached on an errant throw to start the inning and moved to second on a groundout. Figueira helped his own cause with an RBI-single to left and took second on the throw.
Max Bowden (2-for-3) followed with a line drive to left that moved Figueira to third. He came home on a pitch that bounced away from North catcher Zach DeMattio.
“Against a team of that caliber, against a pitcher of that caliber, there is no margin for error,” said Tobin. “We made a couple of errors and that gave them the lead…We battled but Figueira is a great pitcher and it was his day today.”
Katch pitched around a lead-off error in the fourth, but Taunton would take advantage of another North mistake to double the lead in the fifth.
Figueira reached when his infield pop-up fell in and Bowden hit a hard single into the hole at short that John Brennan did well to keep on the infield. Christian Simoes drew a walk to load the bases with no outs and give the Tigers a chance to break the game wide open.
Sophomore Joe Manchester singled in a run but Charles Hearrold III hit a sharp grounder to third baseman Ethan Hebard and he started a 5-2-3 double play. Katch was on the verge of getting out of the jam but Kevin Griffin had an infield single to deep short to plate Manchester and make it 4-0.
That was plenty for Figueira.
“With Luke on the mound and getting more than two I think we’re okay,” said Sylvia. “We left a lot of guys on base (nine runners) but we did take advantage of some mistakes that they made, which was good because we haven’t really done that all season.”
Taunton added an insurance run in the seventh. Bowden drew a lead-off walk against reliever Matt Papineau, Simoes singled and then Manchester drove in Bowden with his second hit of the game.
“Joe’s first at-bat he was diving into the pitch a little bit,” said Sylvia. “My coaching staff talked to him before I got to him and we all said, be shorter to the ball and trust your hands.”
Figueira told the coaches that he wanted the ball to try and avenge an early season loss to the Rocketeers and he made sure to rise to the challenge.
Taunton (9-2, 8-2) will face another tough Kelley-Rex test on Wednesday with a trip to Attleboro. North Attleboro (6-6, 5-5) will travel to league-leading King Philip.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.