Greylock Offense Overwhelms HoosacWILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The offense of the Mount Greylock baseball team has been downright deadly at times this season. The Mounties have scored double-digits runs in eight games this season and were averaging 8.5 runs per contest coming into Sunday's Division 2 Western Mass. quarterfinal game against Hoosac Valley.
The sixth-seeded Hurricanes were hoping to offset the Mounties' powerful bats with the solid pitching of senior starter Mike Koperniak. Greylock's offense remained unfazed, however, chasing Koperniak out of the game with a five-run third inning and pounding out 14 hits overall en route to a 12-3 win at home.
The third-seeded Mounties now advance to a semifinal matchup against the winner of Monday's quarterfinal game between No. 2 South Hadley and No. 7 Southwick. The date, time and location of the semifinal game is yet to be announced.
Whoever Greylock (16-5) plays, its opponent will have to deal with a potent lineup capable of solid production up and down the batting order. The Mounties showed their versatility on Sunday afternoon, spreading hits around to eight different batters and scoring runs in all but one of inning of play. Perhaps the best indication of Greylock's depth on the offensive end can be seen in the game put in by senior Nick Zimmerman. The Mounties' No. 9 hitter went 2 for 3 with a double and four RBI.
"We have a good lineup up and down," Greylock head coach Steve Messina said. "There are a lot of times when kids step up when you least expect it. Our No. 9 hitter today had [four] RBI. Zims had some good games this year, and that's one thing that I think our kids realize. If they're not having the best day, there is going to be someone else who is going to help us out."
Messina actually thought Zimmerman had five RBIs, but the home scorekeeper ruled his sacrifice fly in the bottom of the second inning was merely a pop up to first base. It normally would have, except that Hoosac catcher Conner Tworig left home plate, probably thinking that was the third out in the inning. That allowed Eddie Dufur (2 for 3, one RBI) to sneak in from third base and score the first run of the game.
The Hurricanes (11-10) came back to take the lead by scoring two runs in the top of the third inning. Sophomore Matt Braman, who led the visitors by going 2 for 4 with two RBIs, started things off by blasting an RBI single over the head of Mounties' second baseman Billy Pulasky. Senior Tanner Bird then drove in another run two batters later with a double to the gap in left-center field.
The momentum seemed to shifting Hoosac's way until things unraveled for Koperniak in the bottom of the third. After getting a fly ball to center to start the inning, Koperniak allowed the next seven batters to reach base before he was pulled out of the game in favor of sophomore Justin Nichols. A walk, one of four free passes Koperniak allowed in his two and one-third innings of work, to Billy Pulasky started the hosts' five-run frame. Back-to-back-to-back singles by Andrew Leitch, Nick DiSanti and Dufur scored a pair of runs before Koperniak started losing grip of the ball. He then hit Josh Fortier with a pitch to load the bases before walking in Mike Munzer to give Greylock a 4-2 lead.
Zimmerman then drove a 3-2 pitch down the left-field line, scoring two more runs to give his team a four-run lead and chase Koperniak out of the game. Leitch, who led the Mounties' offense by going 3 for 4 with a double, two RBIs and two runs scored, said his team felt prepared for the Hurricanes' lefty after facing him two weeks ago in an 8-3 win for Greylock at home.
"We worked a lot with the left-handed curves and the left-handed pitching in practice," Leitch said. "It's not that we were expecting something that we weren't ready for. We came ready for this game.
"[Our offense] has been doing this all season. We come into the game with the same mentality. We just try to come in strong, and we really try to take advantage of playing on our home field. We love this field, and we love this atmosphere. It's awesome here."
It was an unfortunate ending for Koperniak, who has pitched so brilliantly over the past two seasons. The Hoosac senior started the season so strong, going 5-0 in his first five appearances, including a no-hitter against Lenox in the fourth game of the year. Koperniak (5-3) struggled down the stretch, however, going 0-2 in three starts to end the season. Hurricanes head coach Bob Rivard was hoping Koperniak could find his rhythm again in the playoffs, but he allowed six earned runs on six hits before exiting the game midway through the third inning.
"I think he was struggling from the get-go," Rivard said. "The last half of the season he's been having a hard time getting his fastball down and locating his fastball. I think he's healthy enough, but in the last few games he hasn't trusted himself. You don't want to say that they got lucky hits, but they squeezed one through the left side that snuck through. They hit a couple on the line that got through. When we pulled the infield up, and they blooped one up in the air that just barely got to the outfield grass.
"That's the game, though. We didn't do that. We could have, but we didn't. They got the hits, and we didn't. We talked all week how we couldn't let the lower part of the order get on base because we couldn't load them up for those top four or five hitters, and we did it."
One of the big reasons Hoosac couldn't get the hits it needed was because of the strong pitching of Leitch on the mound. The Mounties' junior threw six solid innings, allowing just the two runs in the third and only three hits in the game. He was very precise all game long, attacking the strike zone over and over again, striking out three with just one walk to improve his record to 8-1 this year. He even withstood a rain delay in the middle of the fourth inning, coming back to throw two more scoreless frames before letting freshman Ian Brink close out the game in the seventh.
"He's so mentally tough," Messina said of his starting pitcher. "Once he gets a lead, he's able to hit spots and pick. He's just a good pitcher. He's not blowing the ball by anyone, but he's changing speeds, he hits his spots, he keeps you in the game and he doesn't get rattled. If there is a tough situation out there with runners in scoring position, he doesn't get flustered and he's very calm. He's able to stay in the game and give us everything he has. He's been doing that all year."
After its big burst in the third inning, Greylock kept the pressure on by picking away at Nichols over the next three frames. The Mounties scored two runs in the fourth inning and one more in the fifth before blowing the game open with three more runs in the sixth. Zimmerman and junior Eric Leitch each had doubles in the inning, helping the Mounties set their sights on the semifinal round.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, are left to look back on a season in which they started off 7-2, only to close out the year by losing 8 out of their last 12 games.
"We're going to lose a lot of seniors, so the kids are going to have to step up and play better baseball," Rivard said. "We can't just continually scramble around. We only lost a couple of seniors last year, but this year we're losing a bunch. There will be some openings, so we'll just have to wait and see."