In a postseason defined by unpredictability, it was fitting that Thursday afternoon’s Class A South baseball quarterfinal between No. 15 Portland and seventh-seeded Cheverus was decided in unorthodox fashion.
On a squeeze bunt, with two strikes, in the bottom of the 10th inning.
Nick Giancotti led off the bottom of the 10th with a triple, and freshman Chris Murphy ended the game with a bunt for a 1-0 win as the Stags (13-5) advanced to face No. 6 South Portland in the semifinals on Saturday.
“It was a wonderful game,” said Cheverus Coach Tony DiBiase. “We were fortunate to be on the winning side.”
The contest began as a pitcher’s duel between Portland ace Danny Tocci and Cheverus flame-thrower Sam Clark, a University of Connecticut-bound pitcher. They allowed just five hits combined through six innings.
Each pitcher then escaped serious trouble.
In the bottom of the seventh, Tocci walked Kevin Connolly on four pitches, then Brian Connolly and Matt Connor followed with perfectly placed bunt singles to load the bases with nobody out. But Tocci got a ground ball that resulted in a forceout at the plate, then escaped when Richie Tremble hit a line drive to shortstop that resulted in a double play.
In the top of the eighth, Trey Roberts led off with a double and pinch runner Nathan Isajar got to third with one out, but Clark fanned James Gignac looking and Reegan Buck swinging.
Brian Connolly relieved Clark (eight scoreless innings, three hits, 10 strikeouts) in the ninth and walked three batters to load the bases with one out, but he got out of it by inducing a shortstop-to-home forceout and a pop-up.
In the bottom of the 10th, the Stags finally ended it.
On the first pitch, Giancotti crushed a Tocci fastball to deep left-center. The ball almost cleared the fence, and Giancotti was able to race into third with a triple.
“It felt pretty good off the bat,” said Giancotti. “I wanted to get (a triple).”
Tocci then got Tremble to fly to shallow left.
That brought up Murphy, who couldn’t get a bunt down on a 1-1 pitch. But on 1-2, with Giancotti heading for home, Murphy bunted the ball perfectly to Tocci’s left, scoring Giancotti and setting off a wild celebration.
“I just wanted to get (the bunt) down,” said Murphy. “I got to first and then got to celebrate.”
“I knew he’d get it down and I’d get (home),” added Giancotti.
Tocci finished with five strikeouts.
“It was a gut-wrenching game,” said Tocci. “I felt good all the way up until we lost. I gave my team everything I had.”
The Bulldogs finished a misleading 6-12.
“I’ve coached a long time and I’ve had great teams and I couldn’t be any more proud of what Danny Tocci and this team just did,” said Portland Coach Mike Rutherford. “We’re definitely not a 15 seed.”