Fortier Keys Mounties' Win Over 'CanesWILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Josh Fortier doesn't walk a lot. With the way he swings the bat, there's just no reason to.
Fortier flexed his muscles on Friday, going 4-for-4 with a home run, a double and three RBIs to carry the Mount Greylock baseball team to an 8-3 home win over South Division rival Hoosac Valley. The victory not only avenges a 4-3 extra-inning loss to the Hurricanes last month, but it also gives the Mounties (12-4, 8-3) a one-game lead over Hoosac (9-7, 7-4) in the South Division standings with two leagues games to go.
In addition to his team's success, there was also a bit of personal redemption for Fortier on Friday. The senior first baseman went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts the first time the two teams met back on April 30. He was different player at the plate the second time, around, though, finishing just a triple shy of hitting for the cycle while accounting for hits in all four of the innings in which his team scored runs.
"Our approach was to get ahead in the South, take control and try hang on to that for the rest of the season," Fortier said about his team's mindset heading into the game. "We knew we had to play a clean game, and I think we did for the most part. I think we knew coming into the game that [both teams] we're pretty equal, and we didn't want to lose here at home. We would have had two losses to Hoosac in the same division, so we needed this win and we got it."
Some would say that Greylock did it the hard way, getting eight hits off of Mike Koperniak (5-10 and handing the Hurricanes' ace his first loss of the season. The visitors went up 1-0 in the top of the first inning on a sacrifice fly by Corey Meczywor, but the Mounties would quickly tie the game again with Fortier's two-out double to the warning track in right-center field. It was just the first of several clutch hits for Fortier, who also had a single in Greylock's four-run fourth inning, a solo home run in the fifth and a two-out RBI single in the sixth.
"Josh had a couple of big hits today," Mounties head coach Steve Messina said. "He's a good hitter and he's got a good swing. [On the home run], he got a pitch he liked and he drove it. It was just crushed."
Junior Andrew Leitch was steady in a complete-game performance that improved his record to 6-1 this year. He struck out five and walked two to earn the win, twice overcoming two one-run deficits along the way. His brother, Eric Leitch, also played a pivotal role in his success by constantly keeping Hurricane batters off the bases with great defense at third base. Eric, who normally plays shortstop when Andrew isn't pitching, accounted for six putouts in a row at one point and started both of his team's double plays on the day, the last of which ended the game with two Hoosac runners on base.
"He's a great fielder," Messina said of Eric. "He's really, really smooth and has really nice hands and a strong arm. He's also quick and has good mechanics when he fields ground balls. His arm is so strong that even when he bobbled a ball today, he still had enough time to get the runner out at first base."
Eric Leitch also had a big play at the plate when Greylock took control of the game with four runs in the fourth inning. The Mounties' batted around in the frame, taking advantage of two Hoosac errors and four Koperniak walks to give the hosts a 5-2 lead. The Hurricanes' mistakes were minimal at first, but they added up as the inning went along. After a walk to Mike Munzer started the inning, he was able to take second base when a pickoff throw by Hoosac catcher Conner Tworig got away at first. Koperniak then got Robby Buffis to line out to shortstop Tanner Bird (2-for-4), but the Hurricanes' senior tried to snag the ball out of the air in an attempt to double off Munzer at second base. The play backfired, however, as the ball dipped on Bird, hit off his glove and allowed both runners to reach safely.
Fortier then loaded the bases with a single to left field before a sacrifice fly by Eddie Dufur tied the game at two runs apiece. Koperniak did a nice job of getting a groundout back to the pitcher in the next at bat, but Eric Leitch eventually made the visitors pay for their errors with a two-run single up the middle, just past the glove of a diving Jesse Larabee at second. Koperniak then walked three batters in a row to force home another run before Munzer flied out to center field to end the inning.
"The walks hurt us, but you have to remember that we made two bad plays [in that inning]," Hoosac head coach Bob Rivard said. "We tried to pick a guy off of first base when they were going to waste an out bunting him over to second. We gave it to him, though, and Tanner looked at the guy too quickly before trying to get a double play on the line drive. That would have been an out right there.
"You can't give them extra outs and expect your pitcher not to suffer from it."
The 'Canes got a run back when sophomore Matt Braman, who led the Hoosac offense by going 3-for-4 with two runs scored, scored on a wild pitch in the top of the fifth. Hoosac didn't fully take advantage of having two runners on with no outs, however, and Fortier quickly bumped his team' lead back to three runs by drilling an 0-2 pitch from Koperniak over the right-field fence in the bottom half of the inning.
It was just the icing on the cake on a day where Fortier was locked in at the plate. Thanks to his 4-for-4 effort at the dish on Friday, Fortiers' batting average jumped from .295 to .354 this season.
"My 0-2 philosophy when I'm down is trying to look fastball and adjust to the curve," Fortier said. "I was waiting for the fastball, and it was there. I hit it well."
Greylock added two more runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to secure its fifth win in a row. The Mounties have been on quite the run since dropping that heartbreaker to the Hurricanes last month. Messina's club is 7-1 since then and looks like a serious contender once the Division 2 Western Mass. tournament seedings are released.
"I think we solidified where we are," Fortier said. "We've kind of molded together as a team, and I think we're playing well. I think if we go back [to the first game] and play Mount Anthony again, it won't be a 12-2 game."
Hoosac has been on much different path since that same point, going 3-5 since then and losing its last three games. The 'Canes still have four more games to turn things around, however, and they can start with a road game at Mohawk at noon on Saturday.
"We're just going to have to do it," Rivard said when asked how his team deals with its first real adversity of the season. "We have a game tomorrow, and we have to get it done. We want to get our 10th win. I don't know much about Mohawk. I think we're a better team than they are, but I thought we were better team than Lee and a couple of other teams we've lost to recently."