WESTPORT — When the draw came out for the CIAC Class LL baseball tournament, No. 5 Staples was paired against Westhill, which was not your typical No. 28 seed.
Staples would be facing a Division I college-bound pitcher in Westhill’s John MacDonald and a Vikings team ranked in the state top 10 earlier in the season.
Not to mention the fact that it was an FCIAC opponent well familiar with the Wreckers.
Staples ace Chad Knight out-dueled MacDonald in a game that took an hour and 15 minutes to play, leading Staples to a 2-1 win in the opening round of the Class LL tournament.
The defending champions advance to face another FCIAC opponent — No. 21 Danbury, which beat Darien 7-3 on Tuesday — on Wednesday back at Staples.
Knight — who allowed a home run to Westhill’s leadoff hitter, Bobby Zmarzlak, in the top of the first — would settle in and go the distance for the win.
As the game progressed, Knight relied more and more on his fastball, using his breaking ball sparingly after the second inning.
“(Staples catcher) Matt (Stone) and I kind of got on the same page in the second and third inning and we decided that locating the fastball was the way to go,” Knight said. “Zmarzlak is a great hitter and I threw a changeup over the plate and he hit it out. That’s the type of hitter they have at Westhill. After that, my main concern was being able to throw fastballs for strikes and trying to locate.”
After Zmarzlak’s home run, Westhill only got three more hits, though they had the leadoff hitter on twice in the fourth and the sixth but could do nothing with him.
“We got outplayed offensively. We had guys on base leading off multiple innings and just didn’t get them in. We got a few in scoring position but couldn’t get the big hit,” Westhill coach DJ Mulvany said. “On paper, their record was better than ours but not much separated us today. We always have a shot with (MacDonald) on the mound but balls didn’t fall our way today.”
MacDonald allowed only four hits to the Wreckers, striking out eight.
Staples tied the game on a RBI single by Stone, driving in Chris Drbal in the bottom of the fourth.
Staples took the lead in the bottom of the fifth with Adam Petro lining a sharp double to right center, plating pinch runner Renato Llamas from second.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Chad Knight, Staples. Knight struck out four, letting his defense work behind him all afternoon.
“Not only were we getting somebody’s ace, we are getting a D-I kid who is one of the top five pitchers in Connecticut,” Staples coach Jack McFarland said. “That was the focus in practice yesterday, was getting ready for a kid like that. Situational baseball, getting runners over, getting runners in. That is not a normal 9-10 team.”
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In the bottom of the fourth, Staples had runners on second and third with one out. A groundball to the shortstop was thrown to first for an out. On the throw, the runner from third base broke for home. He slid into the catcher, who did not hold onto the ball. Despite the catcher not holding the ball, the runner was ruled out by the home plate umpire for an improper slide. Though McFarland protested vehemently, the call stood as a double play.
STAPLES 2, WESTHILL 1
WESTHILL 100 000 0—1 4 2
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Records: W—9-11; S—18-5. Batteries: W—John MacDonald (L) and Alex Cordone; S—Chad Knight (W) and Matt Stone