Baseball

Big Inning, Natoli’s Pitching Carry Warde To First State Baseball Final Since 1982

Warde's John Natoli pitched a complete-game shutout in an 8-0 Class LL semifinal win over Simsbury. (Photo: Matt Dewkett)

Warde’s John Natoli pitched a complete-game shutout in an 8-0 Class LL semifinal win over Simsbury. (Photo: Matt Dewkett)

BRISTOL – Perhaps the problem for Simsbury High pitcher Brandon White Tuesday in the Class LL semifinals was seeing the Fairfield Warde lineup the second time around. Or maybe it was seeing a Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference team for the fourth time around.

Whatever the case, Simsbury met its demise when Warde scored eight runs in the third inning. And with John Natoli tossing a four-hit, eight-strikeout shutout, Warde advanced to the final with an 8-0 victory at Muzzy Field.

“I don’t think it was so much a case of (White) facing their lineup for the second time,” Simsbury coach Dave Masters said. “It was our fourth straight game against an FCIAC team. That might have finally gotten to us.”

The FCIAC is considered one of the best conferences in the state. Simsbury had already beaten FCIAC teams Westhill, Fairfield Ludlowe and Trumbull to reach the semifinals. Warde then proved too much for the Trojans, especially when White faced the Mustangs the second time around in the bottom of the third.

“Our bats came alive at the right time,” Warde coach Brett Conner said after a Warde team reached a state final for the first time since 1982. The No. 10 seed Mustangs (19-7), one of the few teams in history to advance to the championship round without playing a top-10 seed before the final, will play Amity in the state final, either Friday or Saturday at Palmer Field in Middletown at a time to be determined.

Bobby Lazar slides in to home to score a run for Warde. (Photo: Matt Dewkett)

Bobby Lazar slides in to home to score a run for Warde. (Photo: Matt Dewkett)

“I told them that our magic number was five. If we score five runs we’d win,” Conner said.

The Mustangs, who defeated No. 23 Naugatuck, No. 26 Hall and No. 34 Xavier before facing the 11 seed Simsbury, broke it open in the third and Reece Maniscalco had a two-run double to key the eight-run uprising. That was the first of four consecutive extra-base hits off White in the frame.

“I told them we have to hold them close because we don’t score a lot of runs,” Masters said. The Trojans (16-8) entered the game with a 0.29 earned run average in the state tournament and had scored a total of four runs while allowing one to reach the semifinals.

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White pitched eight shutout innings in a 1-0, nine-inning win over Ludlowe on June 1. He started Tuesday’s game with two clean innings.

And then it all unraveled.

“We have a lot of seniors (10) and we were ready for this,” Natoli said. The senior right-hander, after shutting out Hall in the second round, has tossed 14 shutout innings in the tournament. “In the third inning we came out aggressive. Once we got three or four runs, I felt really confident.”

Warde catcher Dan DeBartolomeo fires the ball to second base. (Photo: Matt Dewkett)

Warde catcher Dan DeBartolomeo fires the ball to second base. (Photo: Matt Dewkett)

Giacomo Brancato beat out a potential double play ball to produce the first run, although the rally really began two batters earlier.

“Joe Deutsch set the tone,” Conner said, referring to Deutsch’s prolonged at bat against White. Deutsch singled after Owen Buhrendorf’s one out single and before Jack Myers was hit by a pitch to load the bases. “That set the tone for the inning and really changed the whole game.”

After Brancato beat out the grounder, Wilson lost it. Maniscalco doubled in two runs to make it 3-0, Natoli and Zavier Espinel followed with RBI doubles before Dan DeBartolomeo ripped a run-scoring triple, which knocked the sophomore White from the game. Trojan reliever Peter Soja then allowed a run on a wild pitch and his throwing error plated the eighth run.

“The double play would’ve ended it and that’s tricky for any pitcher, let alone a sophomore,” Masters said. “But they smacked him around and before you knew it, it got ugly.”

DeBartolomeo led the Mustangs with two hits while Maniscalco had two RBI. Matt Zikovich had two hits to lead Simsbury.