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Panthers blank Warriors, 7-0

PALMER — Connor Roche tossed six innings of four-hit ball to lead fourth-seeded Palmer High School to a 7-0 win over Mohawk Trail Regional High School in the first round of the Western Massachusetts Division III Baseball Tournament on Friday night at Legion Field.

As if Mohawk didn’t have enough to contend with in facing the Panthers (18-3), the game began in a drenching downpour that saw two first-inning rain delays, one in the top and one in the bottom. The first delay came as the Warriors’ Liam Datres de la Blotier had the bat fly out of his hands during an at-bat, coming dangerously close to both the Palmer third baseman and Mohawk third base coach. Though the rain continued and actually picked up in intensity, the game resumed and the side was retired with a Datres de la Blotier pop up to second.

The bottom of the first saw the rain intensify even more, and Mohawk starting pitcher Billy Gray could never get a grip on the ball, nor find his footing on the mound. The second delay was used to spread drying agent on the field, but to no avail. Palmer batted around and used four walks and two hits to take a 3-0 lead, and Gray was done for the night without retiring a batter. Ryan Spitzer, dry in the dugout and ready to go, came in to retire three in a row (two on strikeouts), but the tone was set, and the 13th-seeded Warriors (11-10) could never recover.

Palmer put three more on the board in the bottom of the second, as Troy Remillard and Aaron Palmer started the frame with base hits before Spitzer retired Roche and Tyler Wilson on fly outs. After an infield hit by Jason Warner, Sean Anderson took an 0-2 Spitzer offering to the opposite field, knocking in two, and Matt Blanchette followed with a single to make it 6-0.

“That [Anderson] hit was really the key,” lamented Warrior coach Bill Buck. “Ryan had him down 0-2, and threw a pitch a foot outside, and he went out and hit it to right-center to make it 5-0. Ryan threw a great pitch, I don’t know how the kid hit the thing, that killed us right there. Down 3-0 after one is nothing for us, but that made it really tough.”

The Warriors did have their chances, putting runners in scoring position in the fourth, sixth, and seventh innings, but couldn’t get the key hit to break through. Their best chance came in the fourth, when hits by Andrew Doty and Datres de la Blotier, followed by a past ball, put runners at second and third with only one out. Palmer starting pitcher Roche retired Javier Morales on a strikeout, and got JJ Burt to fly to center to end the threat.

The Panthers added another run in the sixth as pinch-hitter Zach Handzel provided a two-out RBI. Mohawk put two on in the seventh, and again after a passed ball had two in scoring position with one out, but Handzel, who came on to relieve Roche, ended strong with strikeouts of pinch-hitter Sean Eckler and second baseman Sam Slowinski.

“Take those first to innings out, and it was a competitive baseball game, but they’re a good team. My kids played hard, and I’m proud of them.” said Buck.

Palmer will host No. 12 seed Athol High School Monday at 6 p.m. in the quarterfinals.

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