BRIDGEWATER, Mass. -- Jack Connolly was reminded of the way his starts tend to crescendo, the needle finally hitting the groove somewhere in the middle innings, and he offered a spunky solution.
"It happens every game, my arm gets stronger and stronger as the game goes on -- maybe I should warm up in the bullpen longer," joked the promising sophomore, who by the way sticks to standard 20-pitch pregame bullpen session.
The righthander was brilliant in the Trojans' 2-1 win over Dartmouth this afternoon, which clinched the Trojans their first Old Colony League title since 2009; and while he stayed out of trouble early, it wasn't until the middle innings of this nine-inning contest that things took off.
Connolly finished the day with 10 strikeouts, walking one while allowing five hits and an unearned run. Nine of those 10 K's came after the third inning, including the final out of the afternoon, ringing up Jeff Carreiro on a pitch high and away, with the potential go-ahead run at first base. The ball cavorted around the black parts of the plate, both high and low in the zone, with an array of sliders and hanging curveballs to jam or freeze Indians batters.
"He's a big game pitcher," B-R head coach John Kearney said. "We felt very confident givng Jack the go today because he's already a sophomore but he's already pitched in a lot of big games this year. He rose to the occasion. He got stronger as the game went on. Already as a sophomore, Jack's got that in him."
Dartmouth took the initial 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth on a well-executed delayed double-steal with runners at the corners. Evan Martins took off for second on a steal attempt, and got caught in a rundown. As the junior leftfielder played pickle with the B-R infielders, Brendan Sullivan bolted home and reached safely for the Indians, after the incoming throw was off the mark.
The beauty of the OCL is with only wooden bats permitted in league games, there is an increased emphasis on manufacturing runs. B-R produced two in the bottom of the fifth to give them the lead for good.
First, senior Brian McSherry legged out a base hit, beating the throw to first, then took second on an Adam Chase groundout. AFter Connor Sullivan was rung up on strikes for the second out, McSherry was brought home from second on a Corey Dinunno bloop single to shallow right.
Dinunno turned the base hit into a double as the Indians tried to throw out McSherry at home. He too was brought home from second, in the next at bat, when a throwing error by the third baseman allowed Tyler Glavin to reach first safely.
B-R failed to put another player on base the rest of the game, going down 1-2-3 in succession the next three innings. Connolly held his own, however, allowing just one hit after the fifth inning.
Connolly's counterpart on Dartmouth, junior righty Dan Southerland, also went the full nine. He allowed three hits, struck out five and walked one, keeping the Trojan bats silent late.
"That's pretty much what he's done all year -- throws strikes, gets ahead, moves the ball up and down," Indians head coach Tom McDermott said. "Unfortunately, pitchers are the only ones with the 'W' or 'L' next to their names. Sometimes they deserve them, and sometimes they get them when they don't deserve them. He [Southerland] has been like that all year for us. He's just one of those kids who you know what you're going to get out of them."
Said Kearney, "That was a great matchup, because Southerland has been pitching great for them too. I knew it was going to be a great pitching matchup and a great pitchers' duel. It was exactly as we expected it to be like."
Beyond years, on and off the field: Much has already been made of the strong Connolly lineage in the Bridgewater community. His older brother Mike is currently a junior at the University of Maine; their father, Michael, was taken in the eighth round of the 1982 MLB Draft by the Cleveland Indians, out of East Bridgewater High.
The bloodlines are evident on the mound, in the maturity he has demonstrated thus far in his varsity career.
"He's a pitcher's pitcher," Kearney said. "He knows what he's doing out there. You can see, he already has...as a freshman, he could be mistaken for a senior in his approach to pitching. He's not a thrower -- he's a real pitcher. He paints corners, sets hitters up by throwing different pitches. At the end there, he probably was throwing his hardest."
It goes without saying, Connolly has learned a thing or two from the old man.
"Even when I was five to 10 years old, my dad was playing in over-30 leagues and still throwing 90," Connolly said. "He has always told me it's about location, and your head is the biggest thing. I keep my head in the game. My brother obviously has taught me a lot through the years [too], and I just take experience from him."
Kearney also noted Connolly's diligence in his workouts between starts. The day after a start, Connolly will be out running 30 sets of 30-yard sprints, followed by band work and pulls over the next several days.
"Gotta get all that lactic acid out, you know?" the young sophomore laughed.
Special presentation for McDermott: Prior to the game, McDermott was honored by Kearney and B-R Athletic Director Dan Buron for his three decades of service to the Dartmouth baseball program. McDermott retired as Dartmouth's Athletic Director in 2009, and this season, his 30th, will be his last as the Indians' baseball coach.
McDermott was presented with a B-R sweatshirt, and a baseball autographed by each member of B-R's team. McDermott said he was taken aback by the kind gesture.
"It was totally unexpected, out of the blue," he said. "Shows what a class organization Bridgewater-Raynham is. When was the AD at Dartmouth, I was close with Danny [Buron], and then John [Kearney] when I coached against him. Just for them to think about it, and take the time to do it, it's very special."
McDermott has had a decorated career in his three decades at the helm, winning over 300 games and seeing two of his players get drafted straight out of his high school, Brian Rose (1994, Red Sox) and Neil Avery (2002, Brewers). Since moving to the OCL from the Eastern Athletic Conference in 2006, McDermott has maintained a terrific relationship with Kearney.
"Since they've come into the league, I've had a great relationship with him," Kearney said of McDermott. "He's a class guy, very classy guy, love him, he's an old-time baseball guy. We've just hit it off right from the very beginning, the first year that they came into our league. We love the relationship Bridgewater-Raynham has in all sports with Dartmouth, but especially the baseball program.
"We love Tom, we're going to miss him. He's one of those coaches you hate to see leave, you know? Great guy, and an excellent coach."