MADISON — Notre Dame-West Haven’s Max Mariano found himself at the center of the two biggest plays of the game in Saturday’s Class L quarterfinals game against Hand.
First, the junior hit a two-run home run in the top of the fifth inning to give the Green Knights a two-run lead. Then in the sixth inning, he hit a pop up to the catcher with the bases loaded with two outs. The ball was dropped and with all three base runners off on the pitch, the Green Knights scored all three to extend their lead to five in a 7-3 win over Hand.
Mariano reached first base and then took off for second, getting in a run down, to allow the third run to score.
“It’s the heads up playing of staying in the rundown, more so than hitting the home run, is why we are where we are,” Notre Dame-West Haven coach Don Martone said. “Everyone hustling around the bases, that’s why we are here. Those little things are the things we need to continue to do.”
“You don’t see that every day,” Hand coach Travis LaPointe said. “Those are hard to practice. I promise you that is the toughest play in baseball and it certainly changed the game.”
No. 12 Notre Dame-West Haven moves on to play No. 1 Berlin in the Class L semifinals on Tuesday, time and place to be determined.
“I want them to enjoy it,” Martone said of the win. “But they also know that we are far from done, far from done. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Notre Dame was last in the semifinals in 2016, the year they won the 2016 Class L state championship.
Mariano’s home run in the fifth inning gave the Green Knights the lead for good and came the half inning after Hand tied the game on a Kevin Girardi two-run home run.
“Honestly I was just trying to hit the ball hard,” he said. “I knew he was going to throw one right down the middle, he had been doing it all game, so I just saw it in, that’s my pitch and I swung.”
Colby Cusano got the scoring going in the second inning, when he hit a two-run home run off of Kevin Tracy, to give the Green Knights a 2-0 lead.
Tracy, the winning pitcher in relief in the quarterfinals for Hand after he threw 3 1/2 innings, was thrust into the starting spot as Hand was playing its third game in four days and the team was low on fresh arms.
After Mariano’s home run and then a walk, LaPointe brought in Liam Wallace, who also had pitched recently.
“Three games in four days,” LaPointe said. “I think both guys are bulldogs, but I think it came down to a few pitches that got left up. Neither guy was full rested and sometimes that happens and you leave a few pitches up.
“Give Notre Dame credit. They put some good swings on the ball all day. They played a better game than we did and they deserved to win today.”
Hand’s season ended like every other one in program history, without a title in either conference or state tournament play. For LaPointe, though he said he was disappointed, he is happy with the relationships they have built.
“It’s definitely disappointing,” he said. “It’s baseball and anything can happen on any given day. I wanted to experience a championship celebration with this team just because they’re such a family and such a close knit group. It would have been so much fun to do it, but looking back on it in a few months, it’s the relationships that we build together that are the most important. The trophies are nice, but they are the not the most important thing about high school baseball, so we do keep that in perspective.”