Highlanders beat Yellowjackets in BL baseball battle of Winsted. Story by John Torsiello.
Thanks to a commanding pitching performance from junior Jimi Phillips and an unexpected victory by Wamogo over Lewis Mills on Saturday, the Northwestern baseball team has its Berkshire League destiny firmly in its collective gloves.
The Highlanders, behind a one-hit, 12-strikout effort from Phillips, beat Gilbert Saturday, 4-0, and are now tied with Mills atop the BL with identical 12-4 records. The two clubs will meet Monday at Northwestern with the guarantee of at least a share of the BL title on the line.
Phillips, a lanky right-hander, was virtually unhittable Saturday as he worked before a modest-sized crowd at Winsted’s Walker Field. He allowed a Gilbert runner as far as second base only twice, those times coming when senior catcher Justin Morhardt laced a triple to left centerfield in the fourth inning, and again when Gilbert put runners on first and second during an inconsequential seventh inning rally.
“I was trying to get ahead with fastball and breaking balls and then go upstairs on them when I got two strikes,” said Phillips of his approach towards Gilbert’s dangerous lineup. “They beat us up (10-1) the first time we faced them at our place and we wanted to get this win badly, especially after losing (16-3) to Thomaston in the last game we played. It was a great way to bounce back.”
Phillips was at his best during a three inning stretch over the second through fourth innings when he recorded seven of his strikeouts. His stuff was not particularly overpowering. But he stayed ahead of Yellowjacket hitters all game long and kept them off balance with an assortment of fastballs, curveballs and straight changes.
“That’s the best game he has pitched all season,” said Northwestern head coach Tom Germano, whose team improved to 13-4 overall. “Jimi pitched smart baseball today, and when you get ahead of batters you can make them chase stuff out of the strike zone. He had problems early in the season with getting behind batters, but he was focused and we played solid defense behind him.”
Gilbert starter Robert Weiss probably deserved a better fate than having a 4-0 loss tagged on him. The gritty senior righty shut the visitors down easily over the first three innings but the Highlanders got the only runs they would need on this day in the top of the fourth.
John Ambrozaitis started the inning off by getting hit by a pitch and promptly stole second and went to third on a ground out by Ryan Eseppi. John Lippincott followed with a double to left field to plate Ambrozaitis, then went to third on a single by T.J. Kent, and scored on a double by Eddie Eseppi.
Northwestern added a pair of runs in the top of the seventh when Connor Guiheen walked, stole second and went to third on a single by Zack Reisdorf, with both runners scoring on a single past a drawn-in infield by Tony Ortiz.
Morhardt walked with one out and Nick Cripe drew a two-out walk to put runners on first and second for Gilbert in the bottom of the seventh inning. But Phillips got Devon Molway to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the game.
Weiss went the distance, allowing just six hits and fanning two, but he got no help at all from his teammates at the plate.
“Phillips did a great job today making us look silly at the bat,” said Gilbert head coach Pat Cooke, whose club fell to 10-6 in the BL and 12-6 for all games. “We gave him probably seven of his strikeouts by swinging at pitches too high or in the dirt. We gift wrapped it for him. That’s been the way it has been all season. We’ll get 12 hits and six walks in one game and then come up empty in another. I thought Weiss threw well but we didn’t give him any support.”
Now that their Berkshire League title hopes are dashed, the Jackets are focusing on a secondary goal.
“We want to finish strong, win our last two regular season games and hopefully get a first round bye in the state tournament,” said Cooke.
Northwestern retains loftier ambitions.
“We win Monday we clinch at least a share of the league title,” said Germano, whose club would be left with only a BL finale against lowly Shepaug next Wednesday if it beats Mills.
Northwestern 4, Gilbert 0
Northwestern 000 200 2 4 6 0
Gilbert 000 000 0 0 1 0
Jimi Phillips and Zack Reisdorf; Robert Weiss and Justin Morhardt. WP-Phillips. LP-Weiss. 2B-John Ambrozaitis (NW), Ed Eseppi (NW), Morhardt (G).