Nottingham Northstars Nick Houghton delivers to the plate. File Photo by Michael A. Sabo
By Rich Fisher
May 9: At this point, it’s all about winning any way you can.
Third-seeded Nottingham survived by doing it with defense in a 5-1 Mercer County Tournament quarterfinal victory over 11th-seeded Hun Tuesday.
The Raiders out-hit the Northstars, 8-4, but Nottingham made the plays when it counted and Nick Houghton toughed it out to go the distance.
The Northstars (15-6) move on to play 2nd-seeded Allentown at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Veterans Park. The Redbirds, who fell to Nottingham 2-1 in April, defeated Pennington 2-1 in 12 innings in their quarterfinal.
Coach Jim Maher is hoping the Stars got their bad game out of their system.
“We were not good enough to win big games at the plate today,” Maher said before heading off to a Barton & Cooney reunion dinner at Caesar’s Pizza. “Nick did not have his best stuff, but he battled.”
“Yeah, we struggled a little bit,” agreed shortstop Tommy McParland, who had a big RBI double. “Nick didn’t have his best stuff on the mound but we know if he throws strikes we have a good defense behind and if we make the routine plays we’ll be all right.”
Nottingham did that and a little more with their gloves in winning their 10th tournament game in the past two years.
Ironically, on a day the defense came up big, Hun took a 1-0 lead on a second-inning error. Nottingham got the run back in the bottom of the second when speed merchant Bryce “Wheels” Fremgen motored home on a double steal attempt with Logan Barber, on which Barber was thrown out at second.
The Stars scored what proved to be the winning run in the third when Brien Cardona singled and eventually scored on McParland’s double to left.
In the top of the fourth, Hun had a runner on second with one out when Jack Erbeck singled to right. Robbie Bennett came up throwing and fired a strike to Tommy Argiriou, who made the tag to preserve the lead.
The Raiders threatened again in the fifth with runners on first and second and two outs before third baseman Phil Rojek made an outstanding play to rob Mike Pedota of a potential game-tying hit.
“Argiriou, Bennett and Rojek made huge defensive plays to preserve the lead,” Maher said.
“They both played some really nice plays to save us runs,” McParland said in agreement.
Nottingham added an insurance run in the fifth when Josh Sikorski singled and eventually scored on an error. The Stars scored a couple of ugly ones to put it away in the sixth when David Scott tallied on an error and Christian Fuentes was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
Houghton nailed it down in the seventh, and finished with an eight-hitter with no walks and three strikeouts. He only needed 80 pitches, 30 below the one-game limit.
“That was impressive,” McParland said. “When Nick doesn’t have his good stuff, he’s still very good. It’s good that he has the determination to go out and keep pitching even if he doesn’t have good stuff. You’ve gotta have the mindset and he has it.”
Nottingham and Steinert are each one win away from a rematch of last year’s final, won by the Spartans. McParland feels that with he, Fremgen and Houghton each playing in their third MCT tournament (as juniors), they have reached a certain comfort level.
“We have a lot of experience,” he said. “When we keep winning these games, we get to play more. We’re really comfortable because we’ve been in these big games. We’ve won 11 (tournament games), that’s a lot of experience.”
Next up is the Redbirds, who Houghton beat back in April. It will be Ronnie Voacolo’s turn on Saturday.
“They’re a good opponent,” McParland said. “But we know if Ronnie pitches like he can and we make the plays, we have a shot.”