Waterford advances to Class L semifinals with win over Law

Waterford — Coach Art Peluso never lost faith in his Waterford baseball team during its struggles earlier this season.

Something told him that the Lancers would eventually become, well, the Lancers, who usually find their rhythm by the time postseason rolls around.

His faith was rewarded again Saturday, as No. 15 Waterford beat No. 26 Jonathan Law of Milford 5-1 in the Class L state tournament quarterfinals. The Lancers (18-9) will face No. 6 Masuk in the semifinals at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Palmer Field in Middletown.

"Everybody else might have had us for dead," Peluso said. "I know I didn't. And the kids knew I didn't. And I couldn't explain to them why after some tough losses. I told them that I don't know why that I don't know why.

"My catcher, Ben Jerome, said, 'because you have confidence in us.' And I do. And it's paying off now."

A four-run third inning broke a scoreless tie and winning pitcher Payton Sutman did the rest, battling through six innings before junior Ryan Bakken finished off the Lawmen in the seventh.

Eight different Lancers contributed to the nine-hit attack, with Sutman leading the way with a single, double and RBI.

Peluso saw signs of the Lancers heating up near the end of the regular season.

"You could kind of see a couple of weeks ago," Peluso said. "The bats started to get a little more life in them. We had a pretty good ECC tournament and we faced some good pitchers in that tournament and we did well, so the kids got some confidence there moving up.

"It seemed to work out for us."

There was a potential for the Lancers to be a bit distracted Saturday with several players having to hustle off to the prom in Branford right after the final out.

But Peluso wasn't concerned. He just reminded his team during Friday's practice to refocus for the next challenge coming off an upset of No. 2 Wethersfield in eight innings on Thursday.

"They did a nice job today," Peluso said. "We get to have another practice on Monday and we get to play another baseball game with an opportunity to get better on Tuesday. Those are all good things."

Sutman did some good things against Law, wiggling out of a couple early jams and stranding five baserunners in the first three innings. Overall, he walked three and struck out five while allowing four hits.

The Lawmen's lone run came on a sacrifice fly in the fifth. Sutman limited the damage facing a bases-loaded, one-out situation.

"I dialed in once I got a runner on and got a little more focused," Sutman said.

Sutman was part of the big offensive outburst in the third. With Connor Podeszwa (single) and Bakken (walk) on first and second, respectively, Sutman's hard shot to third was misplayed for an error, scoring a run.

Then Jerome, Sonny Pezzello and Cadin Maynard each drove in a run with an RBI single.

Sutman's double scored Ryan Salvador, who singled and stole second, in the fourth for a 5-0 lead.

"We have big bats in our lineup," Sutman said. "It was just a matter of time before they started to come around this game. We didn't really hit earlier in the year but we're starting to turn it around at the right time. I think it will help us carry on the next couple of games."

Next up is Masuk, which knocked off East Lyme 5-1 in quarterfinal action Saturday.

Peluso feels good about his Lancers.

"The kids are working hard and playing well," Peluso said. "I'm proud of them. I'm always proud of them. It's nice to be in the semis. It's nice to get into that first week in June playing baseball."

g.keefe@theday.com

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