WESTFIELD – Pittsfield and Westfield had squared off three times this summer leading up to the 2015 New England Regional Babe Ruth Tournament, with the 14-year-old All-Stars from the Berkshires defeating their Western Massachusetts rivals all three times.
Westfield will end the summer with a losing record against Pittsfield, but the one win in four attempts carried the most weight. After Pittsfield pitcher Ian Benoit looked to shut down Westfield’s bats for another outing, the Whip City busted out for four runs the second time through the lineup to support Sam Parker’s six-inning performance and eliminate Pittsfield, 4-3, Tuesday evening at Bullens Field and advance to the regional championship.
“We know each other so well, so pitching and defense was the difference,” said Westfield head coach Mike Nihill. “As good as the outfield is, they see the infield and there are some incredible gloves on this infield and it picks each other up. It’s a very good time to peak and we’ll need all of it tomorrow against Maine. We’re prepared to play 14 innings in this heat.”
The final team remaining among the plethora of Westfield All-Star teams this summer, the 14s used one big inning to finally solve the mastery of Benoit, who had halted the offense on multiple occasions. Westfield plated four runs in the fourth inning on five of the seven total hits to earn just enough insurance for the win.
Joe Raco, the 10th batter in the lineup, became the first Westfield batter to leadoff an inning and reach safely, beating out an infield single to shortstop Joe Traversa and advancing to second base when Traversa’s throw bounced out of play. After Baley Collier doubled on a towering fly ball to left field to put runners on second and third base with no outs, Jimmy Hagan lined a two-run single to left field, scoring Raco and Collier–the latter run coming on the back of an intentional pickle created by the baserunning of Hagan. Collier managed to beat the throw home and the following tag attempt by Pittsfield catcher Ryan Gaudette after Collier missed home initially.
Two batters later, Spencer Cloutier ripped a go-ahead RBI single to left field on the first pitch offering from Benoit, scoring Hagan, and scored himself one batter later on Parker’s booming double to the centerfield wall, giving Westfield a 4-2 lead.
“Ian (Benoit) has great control and rarely throws a ball,” said Westfield coach Jim Hagan. “The first and second pitches are usually strikes, so we told the boys to be aggressive and it clicked in that fourth inning and they hit the first pitch.”
The instant burst of offense proved just enough to help Parker earn the victory on the mound. After throwing an inning in the Sunday loss to Maine and just over an inning during the rest of the summer, Parker shut Pittsfield down through his six innings, allowing three runs on five hits, while also benefiting from an error-free defensive effort behind him.
Pittsfield jumped out in front during their first at-bats, scoring a pair of runs during Parker’s 31-pitch inning. After that first inning jam, Parker retired 12 of the next 14 batters, including two straight 1-2-3 innings in the middle of the game. Parker settled down in a major way for Westfield, throwing 15 pitches or less during his final five innings, including six pitches in the fourth inning.
“Throughout all these games, they have seen (Spencer) Clouteir and Jimmy (Hagan) a lot,” said Nihill. “So the coaching staff collectively thought that we needed to throw something different at them. (He has) different speed, different mechanics and a different velocity and they weren’t used to it. We had to come up with a different recipe for them to look at.”
“The coaches talked to him (after the first inning) and his teammates picked him up and told him to take a breath and find his rhythm and he did,” said Hagan. “He wasn’t bending his back in the first inning and then he started to come through his delivery and everything came in the strike zone.”
Westfield is now one of two teams left in New England and will need to win twice against Portland, Maine, starting at 11 a.m. Wednesday to advance to the 2015 Babe Ruth World Series in Pine Bluff, Ark. Westfield already has one loss in the tournament to the kids from Portland, having lost 8-0 Sunday night.