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Westfield, Mass. - It would take a powerful magnifying glass to spot any flaws in Waterford's impressive performance on Monday.
The District 6 and Connecticut champions rode a balanced offensive attack, sparkling defense and a near perfect pitching performance from Jacob Gannon to a 10-0 shutout of Norwood, Mass., in the Babe Ruth 14 New England regional baseball tournament semifinals at Bullens Field. The game ended after four and a half innings because of the mercy rule.
Gannon tossed a no-hitter, striking out five. Only a leadoff walk in the fifth prevented him from pitching a perfect game.
"We've had a couple of games similar to that, but that's probably our best one," manager Ed Pinch said. "You can't pitch any better than a no-hitter, we played good defense behind him and when we hit the ball like that, I just stay out of the way."
Now Waterford faces Manchester, N.H., at 3 p.m. today for the championship. The winner advances to the Babe Ruth World Series in Moses Lake, Wash. Manchester beat Warwick, R.I., 5-4, in the first semifinal on Monday.
"It's pretty cool," Gannon said. "We never thought we'd get this far. If we win, that would be pretty awesome."
Gannon was pretty awesome on Monday.
Working with lead from the first inning, Gannon settled into a nice rhythm, retiring the first 12 batters before walking Steven Lussier to start the fifth. He recovered nicely, fanning two of the last three batters to retire the side. He's now pitched nine no-hit innings in two regional tournament appearances, going a spotless four innings in a win over Vermont last Friday.
Gannon felt much better during the game than he did on the trip from Waterford.
"On the ride up, my stomach kind of hurt," Gannon said. "When I got on the mound, it was fine. I felt like I was throwing hard the whole game."
His teammates helped calm Gannon's stomach by scoring a run in the first inning and breaking the game open with seven runs in the fourth. It was his first career no-hitter.
"He's a nervous kid," Pinch said, "but he got out there and threw strikes. The key was that he got ahead of the hitters."
Seven different players combined for 10 hits. Alex Petchark contributed three hits and four RBI while pesky leadoff batter Michael Rocchetti reached bases all three times on two singles and walk and scored three runs.
Rocchetti led off the bottom of the first with a single and then hustled to third on a wild pitch before scoring on Petchark's infield single.
The big hits in the seven-run fourth belonged to Chase Speller (two-run double), Petchark (two-run single) and Ben Pickowitz (three-run double).
After the convincing victory, Pinch reminded his players they still needed one more win to continue their tournament run.
Waterford headed home for a good night's rest, something that it didn't get after winning its first two games in the tournament.
Staying in a local hotel on Saturday, the players got a little too excited about their success, according to Pinch, and stayed up too late.
"They were a little rowdy," Pinch said.
Waterford came out flat on Sunday and lost to host Westfield, 4-1, but still advanced to the semifinals out of the National Division. Pinch decided to have the team go back to Waterford on Sunday and return Monday.
"We slept in our own beds and came back ready to play," Pinch said. "I told them to go home and refocus, and they were very focused."
Pinch stuck with the same travel plan after Monday's win. Waterford will leave for Westfield around noon today. Mitchell Clapsadle, who pitched a complete game in a 7-2 win over Warwick Saturday, will be on the mound.
"I like our chances," Pinch said. "If we hit, things will go well."
The players are trying to focus on winning today's game and not on trying to advance to the Babe Ruth World Series.
"They don't like us talking about it," Gannon said. "We've got to win every game first."