BRISTOL--After a brief and unproductive performance in the American Legion state tournament last season, Norwalk was determined to stay around for a bit longer this year.
"A lot of kids, especially our hitters, they were here from last year. We were No. 2 in the state and we showed up and we were two and out. We scored one run," recalled Norwalk coach Chris Brown. "They knew that coming in. And they felt that."
In opening the Round of 16 on Saturday, Norwalk closed the door on last season's struggles by accomplishing what few have done at all of late: The Zone 4 runner-up hit Niantic ace Eric Morse.
Morse, a flame-throwing right-hander who pitched for University of Connecticut-Avery Point this spring, entered with a sparkling 8-0 record through the legion campaign and had yet to allow an earned run.
Unable to solve Morse early, Norwalk finally scraped together offense in the fifth inning, loading the bases with one out. Catcher Kevin Daniele lined a two-run single into left field and Kevin Cawley pushed across the go-ahead run on a groundout.
As it turned out, that was all the support Norwalk would need.
Norwalk added another five runs in the sixth--two earned against Morse--and right-hander Patrick Donohue closed a complete game six-hitter to lead No. 10 Norwalk over No. 7 Niantic 8-2, in a contest that was shortened to seven innings with temperatures hovering above triple digits at Muzzy Field in Bristol.
Morse, saddled with his first loss this season after tossing 5.1 innings, surrendered six earned runs on seven hits. He struck out six and walked six.
"We worked the count and we made him throw a lot of pitches early. I think that helped out," said Daniele, who reached base safely four times, contributing two RBI. "He's a great pitcher. It was just so hot. We kept fighting when we were down."
With the win, Norwalk (21-7) advances to face Zone 1 qualifier Unionville (19-9) on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. at Muzzy Field. Niantic, the Zone 6 champion, will face Oakville (24-4) in an elimination game at 9:30 a.m.
"That's a huge, huge statement that first game, especially against a pitcher of that caliber," Brown said.
For at least one afternoon, in the sweltering heat, Morse's counterpart proved to be the dominant arm. After Niantic built a two-run lead in the third inning on a suicide-squeeze bunt by third baseman Jordan Miele, Donahue settled down. He allowed just two hits over the final four innings to improve his record to 2-0.
"I just threw strikes for most of the game," said Donahue, who walked just three. "I had a rough patch here and there, but I stayed in the strike zone and let them hit it."
"It was just one of them days. We hit the balls hard, right at people," Niantic coach Tony Scarpa said. "(Norwalk) made some plays. They got the hits in a timely manner."
Norwalk recorded 10 hits, including five in a five-run sixth inning. After second baseman Lukas LaBry's bad-hop single, which put Norwalk ahead 4-2, third baseman Spencer Jacoby, Daniele and Cawley added run-scoring hits.
ROUND OF 16, AMERICAN LEGION STATE TOURNAMENT
NORWALK 8, NIANTIC 2
NORWALK 000 035 0--8 10 2
NIANTIC 011 000 0--2 6 2
Records: Norwalk 21-7; Niantic 22-6