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Class L state tournament: Woodstock Academy advances to Class L semifinals

There was a noticeable quiet that fell over the crowd that had come out to see the Class L quarterfinal baseball game between the Woodstock Academy baseball team and Guilford Saturday at the Bentley Athletic Complex.

What had been a loud and cheering crowd after the Centaurs had taken a one-run lead in the third inning suddenly grew concerned after senior Eric Mathewson attempted to steal second base and rolled his ankle.

Those in the Woodstock Academy dugout were equally concerned.

Mathewson was forced from the game but the Centaurs rallied with him sitting on the bench, now with a boot on and crutches to support him, for a 7-1 victory over the Grizzlies.

The win sent Woodstock Academy into the Class L semifinal against East Lyme, a fourth meeting between the two teams this season, at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Dunkin’ Park in Hartford.

“First and third situation, I stole second,” Mathewson described. “Some people were yelling ‘Get down’, others were saying ‘Stay up.’ I just came into the base a little too hard and rolled my ankle pretty good.”

Mathewson had to be helped from the field.

“He is our heart-and-soul, he’s our leader. He is the embodiment of Woodstock Academy baseball. We would not still be playing without him,” Woodstock Academy coach Connor Elliott said.

But instead of lamenting their loss, the Centaurs got back to work.

Woodstock Academy had just taken the 2-0 lead in the third as Tanner Graham had reached on an error and Noah Sampson laid down a bunt single. Maxx Corradi sacrificed the runners over and Graham came home on Mathewson’s single to create the first and third situation.

After Mathewson left the field, Will Bushey came into run for him. A wild pitch allowed Sampson to score and Bushey to move up to third. Keon Lamarche drew a walk which brought Brady Ericson to the plate.

“(Mathewson) came into the dugout. I didn’t know what the problem was, he said he sprained his ankle. I said, ‘Rick, I got you,’ and I went and did it. That was just special. He was proud of me and proud of the whole team. We had to pick him up. He’s our leader. We played great (Saturday),”Ericson said.

The first pitch to Ericson was taken deep into right field.

The only question was whether it would stay fair.

It did.

“Struggling is not the right word because his numbers are fine for that spot in our lineup. He’s doing it, he’s producing, but he hasn’t been all of what we saw last year,” said Elliott about Ericson at the plate this season. “To see it come together in that moment was awesome for him. I’m so happy for him to produce like that and when he’s swinging the bat like that, we’re a tough lineup to pitch against.”

Mathewson watched the launch from an ice chest in the corner of the dugout where athletic trainer Jill Grant was tending to the ankle.

“It meant so much to me. He’s one of my boys. I love that kid to death. He’s been struggling all year and he broke out of it (Saturday),” Mathewson said.

The Centaurs owned a 5-0 lead but were not done yet.

Caleb Simoneau singled to right and Riley O’Brien tripled to make it a 6-0 game.

Ericson would strike again in the fifth with an even higher and deeper drive into the woods beyond the right field fence.

“That second one might be,” Ericson said with a laugh when asked if he thought it was still going.

“This field was just not big enough for that ball,” Elliott said.

Elliott was just happy to see how his team reacted to adversity.

“I’m just so proud of the rest of the guys and how they responded and picking up our leader and saying ‘We’re not losing this game. We’re winning this baseball game for him and will keep playing until he can join us again,’” Elliott said.

Sophomore Logan Coutu stepped in for Mathewson on the mound and allowed only one run to cross the plate in three innings.

“We have a lot of trust in Logan and that was the best game I’ve seen him throw and it came in a high-pressure spot. Guilford can swing the bat one through nine, they are a really good hitting team. He came on in an unexpected role and he was unbelievable. I gave him the game ball (Saturday) for that. Will Bushey had to come in, Bradley Blair, I tell (the team) all the time that while we may have a pretty set lineup, one thing happens, and everybody is suddenly in the game and I think they learned that (Saturday),” Elliott said.

Now, the Centaurs (24-2) get to play the Vikings for a fourth time.

They have won the previous three meetings.

“Let’s go again,” Elliott said. “We’re happy to get to the (semifinals) but I think this team has higher aspirations than just getting there. I think (Saturday) was a great example of what we’re capable of and maybe we proved it to ourselves (Saturday) that we can play with anyone in the state. (Guilford) was a Class L runnerup last year, top 10 in the polls and we played a really good baseball game against them.”

Will Mathewson be ready to go on Tuesday?

“I will do whatever it takes. The rehab, whatever Mrs. Grant says. I will do anything I can to get back if not Tuesday, than Saturday, Lord willing that we make it,” Mathewson said.

“He will be back. If I was a betting man, I would bet he is back on Tuesday,” Elliott said with a smile.

 

Centaurs rolled through 1st and 2nd round games

 

Production up-and-down the order.

It’s what every baseball team strives to achieve and Woodstock Academy got that on Wednesday in an 11-2 win over Berlin in a Class L state tournament second round contest at the Bentley Athletic Complex.

The bats were ready to go against the Redcoats.

Woodstock Academy (23-2) produced 13 hits and a host of those came from the bottom of the order.

Matt Hernandez had three base hits and drove in four runs to propel the Centaur effort.

“His favorite line is, ‘I love baseball.’ You have a kid who loves baseball and takes coaching, I’m not surprised that he went 3-for-4 (Wednesday). That’s been his game and he has been a great player all season,” Elliott said.

Hernandez, who batted seventh, drove in a run in the second, two in the third and another in the sixth.

“It felt good. I could have hit it a little better but I did what I could do and got it done,” Hernandez said. “The bottom of the order has been producing lately so it’s just been great. When the bottom of the order produces, you have a good team.”

There was no waiting around as there had been in the prior two games when the Centaurs fell behind East Lyme, 6-0, and Branford, 2-0.

This time, it was Woodstock Academy jumping atop the scoreboard first as Mathewson and Lamarche both singled. Lamarche then forced a throw to second that allowed Mathewson to score.

The Centaurs added three more runs in the second inning as Simoneau reached on an error, went to second on a wild pitch and scored on an O’Brien double.

One out later, Graham walked and after a second out, Maxx Corradi and Mathewson (4-for-4) had RBI singles.

Woodstock Academy added a run in the third and four more in the fourth to lead, 9-1.

It was a chance for everyone to breathe.

Well, almost everyone.

“Speak for yourself,” Elliott said with a laugh. “I was in the dugout, up seven in the sixth inning and I was yelling at them to keep their focus. We did it last Friday (vs. East Lyme), we’re down 6-0, no life and all of a sudden, we win the game. It can happen that fast in this sport. You have to get 21 outs, some way, some how, there is no clock. I might be a little crotchety from here on out until that happens.”

There was a danger in the first round of the tournament.

The Woodstock Academy baseball team was coming off an emotional win in the Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament the Friday before.

There was a long weekend that followed.

And on Tuesday, the Centaurs hosted the No. 32 seed, Branford, in a Class L first-round state tournament game.

It had all the elements of a trap game.

Woodstock Academy avoided the pitfalls with a 5-3 victory over Branford at the Bentley Athletic Complex.

"You can't take a 32-seed like a grain of salt. Anyone can play on any given day, anyone can win on any given day. I'm just glad we got the guys up a little bit. It took (three) innings but we got it moving and it was a good game," said Lamarche.

Branford (7-14) struck first thanks to the bat of Anthony Fusco. 

The catcher knocked in a run in the first inning with a single to center and followed in the third inning with another RBI base hit to put the Hornets up, 2-0.

"Ricky (Eric Mathewson) was having a day on the mound. We had some troublesome things in the field that led to us going down by two but we go down, we know we're going to come back,": Lamarche said.

Case in point: The ECC championship game.

"We went down by six runs in the ECC Championship. This was miniscule to that," Lamarche added with a smile.

So miniscule, in fact, that Lamarche took care of it with one swing of the bat.

In the bottom of the third, Sampson, who had his first extra-base hit of the season in the ECC Championship, added another; a triple to right field.

Corradi and Mathewson followed by drawing walks which brought Lamarche to the plate.

"I think I mis-hit it a little and, of course, I hit it to the deepest part of the field (left-center). I got the first pitch inside, and I was not expecting (Branford pitcher Jack Smith) to come back inside. It's a pitch I know I can hit and I just let my hands fly and made good solid contact," Lamarche said.

He smoked the pitch deep to left and all three runners found their way across the plate to put the Centaurs up, 3-2.

"There were two outs and no one on and Noah Sampson hits a triple, Maxx Corradi and Eric (Mathewson) both had great at-bats and Keon comes up and did what we pay him to do," Woodstock Academy coach Connor Elliott said.

Lamarche later came across on an error.

The Centaurs added a fourth run in the fifth inning when Lamarche singled, pinchrunner David Bunning stole second and scored on an Ericson single.

Branford did get another run in the seventh as Mathewson went 6 2/3, gave up six hits and two earned runs but also struck out 14.

It was his third pitching outing in less than a week and one of them was an intense four-inning effort against East Lyme on Friday.

"They are two different tournaments but in some ways, you want to fold that intensity and focus into this tournament just because every team is good. That's a pretty darn good 32 seed in my opinion. It doesn't matter who you play, it's survive and advance," Elliott said.