DALTON, Mass. -- Wahconah baseball coach Ernie Wellington rolled the dice, and his team made sure that gamble paid off in a big way.
Behind No. 3 starter Tanner Hill, third-seeded Wahconah defeated Mohawk Trail, 5-3, Friday to advance to next week’s quarter-finals of the Western Massachusetts Division 3 tournament.
Hill limited the damage in the early going and was brilliant over the last four, allowing just three baserunners and not allowing anyone to get past first base.
Before the game, Wellington said he was ready to call on ace Caden Frazier if needed but wanted to give Hill a chance. Hill, though, was on a short leash.
“He was definitely pulling on that leash,” Wellington said. “He got to the point where he had a batter up, I think it was the first or second, maybe, and I said to the coaching staff, this is it for him. If he doesn’t get this batter, I’m not going to load up the bases. I’ll bring someone else in.”
Hill gave up a pair of runs on three hits in the second inning but stranded a man at second.
In the third, Mohawk Trail loaded the bases with nobody out, but Hill got a grounder to short, a line drive back to the mound -- which he snared -- and a grounder to second to limit the damage despite allowing one run to score on a wild pitch.
Hill said he never felt the tug on that leash his coach talked about.
“Yeah, I did [think I could go the distance],” Hill said. “I knew from the start.
“Once I started warming up, I got pretty good in the zone.”
He got his first and only 1-2-3 inning in the top of the fourth, and Mohawk managed just two more hits the rest of the way. Wellington concurred that Hill needed a little time to find his groove.
“Tanner is the kind of kid where it literally takes him 50 or 60 pitches before he settles in,” Wellington said. “And once he settles in, he’s good. … Once we got halfway through the game, I thought, ‘OK, we should be able to finish with him.”
Wahconah’s offense -- like Mohawk’s -- did all of its damage in the early going.
Jake Gai led off the bottom of the first by being hit by a pitch. With Kevin Huban up, Gai took off for second on a 1-0 pitch, and Huban stroked an infield single, allowing Gai to get all the way to third.
Frazier lifted a sacrifice fly to left to score Gai, and Hill helped his cause with an RBI single up the middle to make it 2-0.
In the third, Chad Howes led off with a single, and Gai blasted a two-out triple to drive him home. Gai scored on Huban’s second infield single of the game to make it 4-0. Huban then stole second and came home on an infield single by Frazier that resulted in a throwing error.
That made it 5-2 after two. Mohawk’s missed opportunity to do more with the base-loaded opportunity in the third allowed Wahconah to maintain a two-run cushion the rest of the way.
Wellington now has the weekend to think about who he wants to throw Monday in the quarter-finals against Monson, a winner over Hoosac Valley on Thursday in the first round.
“I’ve been coaching baseball for 26 or 27 years, and this is the first time I’ve ever not thrown my ace in the first game [of a tournament],” Wellington said. “My philosophy has always been: You’ve got to win today. Who cares about tomorrow if you don’t get there?
“But it worked out for us. The last time we played these guys, I had my No. 4 pitcher go against them, and he threw well. I figured if I went with my three pitcher today and hopefully get as much as we can out of him, we can keep our one and two for the next two games.”