The visitors, seeded 12th in the MIAA D2 South tournament, tried on a pair of occasions to score on aggressive base running moves, but on each occasion, Stoughton junior catcher Mike Nazzaro and senior pitcher Zak Paqeutte denied the Bears, including on the last play of the game to secure a 1-0 win in a First Round matchup on Anthony Novello Field.
The fifth-seeded Black Knights took the lead into the final inning, putting the pressure on the visitors. Paquette (7IP, 3H, 2BB, 2HBP, 5K) hit the first batter he faced before getting a fly ball to center for the first out. A passed ball allowed pinch runner Cam Barton to take second, and a ground out advanced the runner to third. Evan Mello drew the first walk of the day against Paquette to put runners on the corners.
GNBVT’s Payton Leandre battled to draw a second straight walk that would have loaded the bases. But ball four was bobbled at the plate and Barton took off for home. Nazzaro quickly recovered and scooped the ball to Paquette and Barton retreated and tried to head back to third. But the Black Knights had the runner caught in a pickle and Paquette tossed to third baseman Brady Conlin and the sophomore applied the tag to end the game.
“That game was one play away from maybe going another direction so it was nice for the boys to hold on,” said Stoughton head coach Mike Armour. “Zak was obviously huge for us today, set the tone early. He was hitting the zone, challenging those guys. We talked about really challenging them and making them earn everything, I’m not sure how many walks he ended up with but not many.
“Hats off to Greater New Bedford, their guy pitched a good game. But we need to do a better job offensively, I felt like we had guys on base early just couldn’t get them in and that could have changed the game early. We let them hang around and anything can happen, and it almost did.”
Nazzaro and Paquette combined to deny the Bears of another run with a play at home. Leandre singled in the bottom of the fifth with his side trailing 1-0 and moved to second on a sac bunt from Jack Gifford. With leadoff man Ethan Almeida at the plate, a wild pitch got back Nazzaro and went to the backstop. Leandre sprinted to third but didn’t slide in, instead rounding the base and taking off for home without hesitation.
Paquette, who was halfway between the mound and plate, noticed and quickly sprinted home and Nazzaro fielded the loose ball and hit Paquette, who applied the tag for the third out of the inning.
“Fantastic plays,” Armour said. “And even Zak looking like he wasn’t covering the plate. He was locked in from the second he got here today so I don’t think he thought he was going to go and when he did, it was like OK, thanks for coming. I think it affected them on the bases going forward too.”
The lone run of the game came in the bottom of the third inning. Paquette clubbed a one-out single and it looked like the Black Knights would have runners on first and second when Robbie Seaman was hit on the back by the pitch. But halfway down the line, the home ump ruled Seaman didn’t make an attempt to get out of the way of the pitch and the at-bat continued.
Instead of first and second, the Knights had runners on the corners as Seaman smacked a single through the right side. Junior James Genest hit a fly ball deep enough to left field to allow Paquette to scamper home for a run on a sacrifice fly.
“In my eyes, he was hit between the 2 and the 1 so I’m not sure how he’s supposed to get out of the way,” Armour said. “But we took advantage of the situation. Umps are doing the best they can, it’s not easy. We don’t want to make excuses, we’re not shrugging our shoulders, we’re not complaining…you have to overcome.
“I’m proud of the guys, gutting it out. Those tight games can go either way, tournament games can go either way. We’ve been on both sides. I think the first one is the hardest so we’re excited to move on.”
Stoughton had someone reach base in four other innings, and get into scoring position each time, but couldn’t cash in any further against GNBVT starter Angel Quinones Gonzalez. Paquette walked in the first and stole second but back-to-back strikeouts stranded the runner there.
Nazzaro was hit by a pitch to lead off the second and an error on a hard hit ground ball from Jacob Kaplan moved him to second with one out, but Stoughton could only manage a pair of fly balls and no further damage.
Cian Swierzewski put the pressure on the Bears’ defense, beating out an infield dribbler and taking second on a throwing error but three straight soft line drives stranded the run there.
And in the fifth, Seaman had a two-out single, stole second, but was caught at third trying to swipe another bag.
“I didn’t think we hit the ball the way we are capable of hitting, but that’s baseball that’s going to happen. And you’re going to have some physical mistakes, that’s part of the game. But I think we did have some mental mistakes.”
Stoughton advances to the D2 South Quarterfinals and will host a familiar foe in division rival Milford, the 13th seed. The Scarlet Hawks knocked off #4 Southeastern in their opening contest. Milford beat Stoughton, 3-2, at Fino Field at the end of April but the Black Knights clinched the division title with a 6-3 win in mid-May at Novello Field. Stoughton will host Milford on Monday at 4:00.