Tigers' Lefty Tames Mounties' Offense

By Stephen DravisSpecial to iBerkshires.com
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GREENFIELD, Mass. – The Mount Greylock baseball teams was an offensive powerhouse the last couple of weeks of the season. On Friday in the semifinals of the Division 2 Western Mass. tournament, Eric Pouliot pulled the plug.

The South Hadley senior southpaw struck out five and scattered five hits in a complete-game 5-2 victory to propel the Tigers (9-13) into the Saturday’s sectional final against Monument Mountain.

Mount Greylock coach Steve Messina gave the crafty lefty a lot of credit for holding at bay a Mounties' lineup that scored 12 runs in its quarterfinal win over Hoosac Valley and 47 runs in the five games leading up to Friday’s outing at Greenfield’s Veterans Memorial Field.

“He was really good,” Messina said. “He changes speeds really well. He kept us off balance. Even the ones we hit, we were out in front of the ball and off balance.

“That’s usually what Avery [Cunningham] does, but he didn’t have it today.”

Cunningham went just three and one-third innings on the mound for Greylock. He departed with a 4-2 deficit before Robby Buffis limited the damage over the next two and two-third frames. 

Pouliot appeared headed for big trouble early when three walks, a hit batter and a Mike Munzer single to left field gave the third-seeded Mounties (16-6) a 2-1 lead. But Pouliot got junior Eric Leitch on a line drive to center field with two outs and the bases loaded to end that threat, and he never looked back.

“He just needed to slow down,” said South Hadley coach Matt Foley, who paid Pouliot a visit during the inning. “He was going fast, breathing heavy. He’s a finesse pitcher. That changeup can’t come out of his hand too fast. He needs to slow down, and I think he was getting caught up in the moment a little bit.”

When asked what was working for him on the mound on Friday, Pouliot did not hesitate.

“My defense, mostly,” he said. “My changeup worked pretty well, but the main thing for us this year is picking each other up.”

To hear Foley tell it, his starting pitcher may have been a little too modest. The veteran South Hadley coach, who led his program to a Western Mass, title two years ago, was quick to point to the sixth inning, when Pouliot also stranded three after the Mounties recorded three infield singles.

"Eric did a good job keeping his composure,” Foley said. “We talk a lot about ‘picking each other up.’ What Eric did there was pick up his fielders.”

Pouliot also supplied some pop in a decisive third-inning rally for the second-seeded Tigers. The inning started when leadoff man Connor Sheridan lifted a towering fly ball to right that Nick Zimmerman appeared to lose in the sun, allowing Sheridan to reach third base. A sacrifice fly tied the game, and a double by Mike Croke put the go-ahead run in scoring position for Pouliot, who singled to right to regain the lead.

South Hadley (9-13) tacked on a run in the fourth when Cunningham lost control of the strike zone, walking three before Buffis came in and walked home the fourth South Hadley run.

“I thought we had some good at-bats, good approaches to get some of those walks,” Foley said. “We’re a free swinging team, but we were very patient today. I was proud of that.”

Messina agreed that walks helped decide the game.

“You can’t give away free baserunners, especially in the playoffs,” he said. “Usually the team that makes the fewest mistakes and [allows] the fewest walks is going to win.”

While emphasizing the fact that South Hadley earned the win, Messina said he was disappointed that his team did not play its best baseball with the season on the line.

“They’re a really good team, but we weren’t sharp at all,” he said. “We haven’t played like that in a long time.”

It is the strong play that produced 16 wins that the Mounties should remember most, Messina said.

“It was a great year, nothing to be ashamed of,” he said. “In a short season like ours, every loss is tough, but losing the last game stings a little more.

“Hopefully, they’ll be able to step back, see the big picture and realize what we accomplished.”

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