GREENFIELD – There’s nothing like a pitcher at the top of his game closing out an entire lineup.
But when that pitcher not only pitches the full seven innings, but an additional three innings as well, and the lineup that gets locked out turns out to be a team that hasn’t lost a game all season, it makes the pitcher’s performance all the more impressive.
No. 3 Ware hadn’t won a Western Massachusetts championship since 2009, and if he was going to win Tuesday night’s Class C title game, he had to go through the top seeds, 18-0, Pioneer Panthers.
Indians junior John Mumper did everything in his power to return the championship trophy to Ware, as he pitched a complete-game gem to lead Ware over Pioneer, 3-1, in 10 innings.
“The throwing performance that John Mumper gave us today was just gutsy,” Ware’s coach Scott Slattery said. “His pitch count on him was only in the 40s after five innings, which is outstanding. I thought we were going to give it away, but this has been our season all year; they never give up.”
With the game tied at one heading into the top of the tenth and the bottom of the Indians’ lineup closing in at bat, Ware knew he had to get just one runner for Mumper, who had already hit two singles, to have the chance to hit. the plate.
A first single from Jack McKeever opened the frame. A few pitches later, he jumped to second. Although Pioneer catcher Braedan Tsipenyuk’s throw knocked him to base, he avoided the tag with an acrobatic slide. Slattery knew that if McKeever came up, his team would have a chance to bring him home.
“He’s our best baserunner, and he did that swimming move to get past the tag. It was an outstanding slide,” Slattery said. “He probably made the play of the game on that slide. And then our two best offensive guys got big hits.”
Two batters later, Mumper was up with McKeever now on third. Fittingly, Mumper found a pitch he liked and drove it up the middle, the same spot his previous two hits had gone, to center field. McKeever easily scored while Mumper put in a big punch when he scored it down the first base line.
The junior brought out his do-it-all toolkit Tuesday, and his RBI single gave Ware a lead in the tenth inning.
“I was just trying to get a pitch I could hit, but I was a little jittery with the first one. I had to put it back together,” Mumper said, recalling his approach at the plate. “I knew the pitcher had a good curveball, and he misled me a little bit, but I just had to push it and it passed.”
After a walk by Nate Kaczuwka, who doubled to score Mumper in the first inning, moved Mumper to second, Dylan Sutkaitis then drove home with a liner into the gap between left center and 3-1. for the Indians.
That third run scored on Sutkaitis’ hit gave Ware a bit of breathing room heading into the bottom of the tenth. Because of that, the Panthers could no longer play small ball, now needing two runs instead of one to extend the game.
“It’s a great run to go up 3-1, because Pioneer then has to change their whole approach,” Slattery said. “It changed the whole dynamic of the game, and that’s what we’re trying to teach these guys. And they are getting it.”
After Ware’s only regulation run in the first inning, Pioneer pitcher Ethan Quinn made life miserable for the Indians’ lineup. Quinn calmed down and didn’t allow another run for the rest of his outing. He struck out 14 Ware batters and didn’t allow a walk.
Slattery had high praise for the sophomore.
“Hats off to their starting pitcher,” he said. “Quinn was a buzz saw. After that first entrance, she just closed the door. That was the best pitcher we’ve seen all year.”
It took the Panthers until the bottom of the sixth inning to tie the game, when Quinn brought home Ben Werner with a sacrifice fly to center field.
With Quinn’s pitch count nearing the 115-pitch limit, he was forced to leave the game after seven innings. Hugh Cyhowski then came on to pitch the eighth, ninth, and tenth innings.
For Mumper and company, winning the Western Mass. title against the defending champions is an unforgettable feeling, especially considering that most of the players on Ware’s roster grew up playing together.
“It means everything,” Mumper said. “I have played with these guys for so many years. We always fall short in these types of games, so to flip the script, it feels very, very good.
Both Ware (17-4) and Pioneer Valley (18-1) are sure to receive favorable seeding in the state tournament as both teams await the next MIAA bracket release.