Natoli pitches Warde past Norwalk
NORWALK — Complacency is the enemy of the team with championship aspirations, according to Norwalk baseball coach Pete Tucci, and he hopes his team learned the lesson well against Fairfield-Warde.
The Mustangs used a masterful pitching performance by John Natoli and a pair of home runs to post a 5-1 victory over the Bears at the Nathan Hale Turf Field.
The contest was more or less a postseason tune-up for Norwalk after they clinched a spot in the FCIAC playoffs with a win over St. Josephs on Sunday, while Warde was still trying to punch their ticket to the league playoffs.
Natoli delivered a four-hit gem with 13 strikeouts to lead the way and the style Warde won was strangely ironic because Norwalk’s ace Mike Gonzalez had pitched 16-strikeout masterpiece just 24 hours earlier against the Cadets and he found his squad on the receiving end of that kind of performance today.
“I told the kids they were fighting for their playoff lives and we came in fat, dumb and happy because we clinched yesterday,” Tucci said. “It doesn’t work. The guys fighting for their lives will win every time. They came in much more hungry than us and we just sat back.”
The loss was one concern, but the condition of Norwalk starter Ryan Searles may become a bigger issue. The lefty was pretty close to matching Natoli’s brilliance over the first four innings before being pulled from the mound because of some discomfort in his pitching arm. He had been touched up for three runs and four hits with four strikeouts during his stint.
“We don’t know,” Tucci said. “We’re going to have it checked out tomorrow. The trainer said he complained of tenderness on the inside of the elbow and any time you mention the elbow, I really don’t like the way it sounds. “
The game was played with a swirling wind gusting over the field, which turned fly balls into an adventure, but the Mustangs never really had to worry even when the wind wreaked havoc on their defense because of Natoli. An error on a wind-blown pop-up led directly to the Bears’ lone run in the third inning, but the spindly right-hander limited the damage with three strikeouts to end the threat.
Natoli said it was more important to nail down the FCIAC berth .
“I always try to be aggressive and that’s what I tried to do today,” Natoli said. “The chance to go to the FCIACs really motivated us and we wanted to catapult into the playoffs.”
Warde coach Brett Conner was was pleased his team was able to reap the rewards from grinding out a tough FCIAC schedule, but he added there was plenty of work left to do if they want to make this a special year.
“Johnny pitched a great game. He was able to get ahead with his fastball and expand the strike zone,” Conner said. “Our kids are staying humble. This is the time you want to play your best baseball. It’s a brand new season now.”
The wind gave the Mustangs a lift in the first inning. Giacomo Brancato slapped a two-out triple and Reece Maniscalco followed with a fly-ball in to the jet stream which sailed over the fence for a 2-0 lead.
The Bears cut the deficit to 2-1 on Marco Monteiro’s double in the third frame, but Warde scored three runs in the fifth with Brancato hitting a two-run blast to extend their edge back to 5-1.
WARDE 5, NORWALK 1
NORWALK 001 000 0- 1- 4-1
WARDE 200 030 0- 5-7-1
Records: Norwalk 11-8, 10-5 FCIAC; Warde- 13-7, 10-6.
Batteries: N—Searles (L-5-2), Isaac Keehn (5), Jack Potochney (6) and Monteiro; W—Natoli-(W-5-2) and Daniel DeBartolomeo.
Highlights: N—Singewald went 2-for-3 with two doubles. Monteiro had a double and an RBI; W—Brancato went 2-for-3 with a triple, a home run, two runs scored and two RBI. Jack Myers went 2-for-3 with a run scored and an RBI and Maniscalco had a home run and two RBI.