BRISTOL—Coach Bill Mazzucco gripped the alligator-shaped shoehorn tightly in his hand as he brought his Notre Dame-Fairfield players into a huddle in the middle of the Muzzy Field locker room. Over the past two years, the alligator shoehorn—a token given to Mazzucco by Austin Allen—has become a good-luck charm of sorts, despite its broken front legs and banged-up body.
Holding the alligator high, Mazzucco and his Lancers shouted and celebrated. And why not? They had just knocked off defending Class S champion Holy Cross 7-5 and beaten a pitcher that had won his last 22 straight decisions.
On Saturday at Palmer Field in Middletown, Notre Dame-Fairfield (19-7) will play for the Class S title. Whether it’s against Shepaug Valley or Coventry doesn’t matter. All that does matter is that the Lancers have overcome every obstacle in their path throughout the tournament and are now one win away from their fourth CIAC crown in program history.
“We are really confident right now and we just have to stay that way. We’re doing great as a team,” said third baseman Bob Karosy, went 2 for 4 with two RBIs and is now hitting .615 (8 of 13) in the tournament. “We knew what we had to do coming into the tournament. We knew who we played during the season … we played LL schools, so we knew that not many teams faced the competition that we faced, so that’s carrying us right now.”
For the fourth straight tournament game, the Lancers pounded the baseball, totaling 11 hits, giving them 43 hits overall, and have scored 31 runs, an average of 7.75 runs a game.
“We knew going in that they had scored 24 runs in the tournament and we had only allowed three, so we kind of figured that we’d do a little bit better job pitching,” said Holy Cross coach Mike Phelan, whose team finishes with a 24-3 record. “What impressed me was how they stayed composed with two strikes. They got a lot of two-strike hits and two-out runs. They battled. At the end of the day, they had 11 hits, they hit the ball well.”
Notre Dame had four — count ’em, four — two-out hits that brought home runs, none bigger than Pete Minore’s RBI double on a full-count pitch that brought home Dillon Higgins, tying the game at 4-4 in the fifth.
“That felt amazing,” said Minore, who also walked twice and scored a run. “That hit got my team back in it and that’s all that counts.”
The Lancers scored three in the first off Holy Cross starter Fran Phelan, who came into the game with a 7-0 record this season and was the winner of his last 22 consecutive decisions. Higgins walked, Jacob Rainey singled and Minore walked to load the bases. Karosy lined a single to center to score two and Jeremy Tierney added a two-out RBI single, giving ND an early three-run cushion.
“Our approach at the plate is fantastic right now and we’re working the pitcher and waiting for a pitch to hit hard and it’s been paying off,” Mazzucco said. “Even with two outs, we’re waiting on those pitches and we’re hitting them very hard.”
Holy Cross answered with four runs in the third on two singles, an error, a based-loaded walk, a two-run double from Connor Coggin and a ground out. However, Notre Dame got even in the fifth on Minore’s RBI double and took the lead in the sixth when, with two outs, Rich Kerstetter singled to left and scored all the way from first on Allen’s RBI double. When Romano singled home Allen, the Lancers led 6-4.
“It’s all about the approach at the plate,” Mazzucco said. “If guys are tense, they start swinging at things they don’t need to be swinging at. And our approach has been amazing.”
Higgins replaced Minore on the mound to start the fifth and in the sixth, the Crusaders pulled within a run as Brian Parzyck scored on Austin Brown’s RBI single. The Lancers, however, regained that two-run cushion in the seventh when Rainey singled, advanced on a walk and scored on an error.
That was more than enough for Higgins, who got a fly ball to end the game and put the Lancers into the Class S championship.
“We had a lot of confidence and we thought this was our year, like last year,” Phelan said. “Unfortunately, we just didn’t get the big hits when we needed them and make the big plays. Notre Dame did.”
RESTED AND READY
After getting bounced out of the SWC semifinals by Newtown, the Lancers are rolling through the Class S field like a hot knife through butter. “The SWC was a little tough on us,” Mazzucco said. “Three games in three days … the pitching situation was going to be hard and we had some guys banged up, guys sore, we weren’t set up that well but now we’re rested, everyone’s 100 percent and ready to hit the ball hard.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Notre Dame’s Austin Allen. His only hit of the game was a huge one, doubling deep to left to score Rich Kerstetter all the way from first and give the Lancers a 5-4 lead, a lead they would never surrender. Oh, and he gave Mazzucco the alligator-shoehorn good-luck charm.
IN THE FINALS
The Lancers advance into their sixth CIAC final. ND won the 1964 Class L, the 2003 Class M and the 2009 Class S crowns, while finishing runner-up in Class L in 1965 and Class M in 2004.
NOTRE DAME 7, HOLY CROSS 5
ND-FAIRFIELD 300 012 1 — 7 11 2
HOLY CROSS 004 001 0 — 5 6 1
Records: ND-Fairfield (19-7); Holy Cross (24-3).
Batteries: ND — Pete Minore, Dillon Higgins (5, W) and Jacob Rainey; HC — Fran Phelan (L), Will Marshall (7) and Brian Parzyck.
Highlights: ND — Dillon Higgins picked up the win in relief, had two hits, including a double and scored two runs; Jacob Rainey scored two runs and had two hits; Bob Karosy had a two-run double; Austin Allen had an RBI double in the fifth. HC — Connor Goggin had a two-run double in the third; Austin Brown went 2 for 3 with an RBI.