STAMFORD—Kevin Murray’s job as the coach of Stamford’s Senior Legion baseball team is akin to that of a landscaper.
Survey the layout, then set the pitching rotation around it.
Murray’s task is much easier in that he possesses what others lack: a pair of aces in Kevin Stone and Randy Polonia. Murray can size up the competition and work around them.
On Tuesday afternoon, with Stamford’s season on the line, Murray again turned to Stone. And again, Stone failed to disappoint.
Stone allowed just one hit over eight innings, striking out nine in winning his second elimination game in less than a week, 2-0 over Branford in the Super Regional.
“Coming into the game I was a little nervous,” Stone conceded. “I said to the guys this is it, we aren’t about to let our summer end. You get a little bit more edgy before the game, a little more focused.”
Stone ran his record to 9-0 this summer and Stamford moved on Tuesday night to face Cheshire, needing consecutive wins in the regional championship series to reach the state final.
Stone, who equalled his calendar-year high for innings pitched, retired the first 10 batters before giving up a single to Branford’s Nick Perrelli. He set down 13 of the final 15 batters, with one reaching on an error and another drawing a walk.
Despite throwing 114 pitches, Stone wanted to be out on the mound to finish his gem.
“He’s a competitor,” said Murray, who called on Ronnie Jackson to get the final three outs. “We have the personnel to take care of it. He looked at Ronnie, and Ronnie said he’d take care of it. Kevin wants the ball. It says a lot about the kid. He wants the ball in a big spot. He has a lot of poise out there.”
Stamford was held to two hits before scoring the game’s only runs in the sixth inning. Polonia singled, stole second and was sacrificed over by Shawn Urbano. Polonia ended up scoring on a wild pitch. With two outs, Jackson singled, Chris Ruiz walked and Cam Greig drove in a run with a base hit.
With Stone, a pair of runs is an excess of riches.
“I felt good the whole time,” Stone said. “I had the same focus.”
Stone said with the season on the line, Tuesday’s game went deeper than winning and losing.
“I think this team is so good because we love to play with each other,” Stone said. “This is a team like no other in that we’re a family. We don’t want the summer to end.”
Stone said there is a unique dynamic to playing with his childhood friends than at Fairfield Prep, where he starred during the spring.
“It’s a little different because I grew up with a lot of these guys and it’s fun playing together,” Stone said. “It’s also the grind of the summer brings us together. High school is different. It’s during the school year, you’ve got other things going on. Summer baseball is summer baseball and that’s all you’re focused on.”
Having Stone on the mound helped ease his coach’s anxiety about the first of what could be three straight games where a loss could bring Stamford’s spectacular season to a premature conclusion.
“He’s special,” Murray said. “It starts with Randy and with Kevin. Either, or. You can’t lose that one. Kevin’s a big presence on the mound and he proved that tonight.”
Stone has proved it since April, and the smart money says he does it again the next four years at Harvard.
Unique qualities just stand out. And can turn fortunate coaches into wise landscapers.