As playoffs near, any gambler would do well to back the hot team. They have all the momentum that brings the necessary winning confidence and timing.
Going into last weekend's Legion play, coach Brian Collins did not know which direction his Northampton team would travel. With four key starters missing due to senior week, it was hard to predict if they could battle to get above the .500 mark.
Seizing the day, the remaining Northampton players came up big when given the opportunity against the Lower Southampton Marlins. Connor Laigaie, who got his first start on the mound, knew the game's importance. "We really wanted to win because that would put us over .500. We were missing four kids so we mixed it up a little in the outfield and in the lineup.'
Missing such proven players as Ty Callender, Greg Paprocki, Will Facenda, and Dan Ng certainly requires some adjusting. Coach Collins' squad more than met the challenge. They jumped on the LoSo starter and cruised to a 10-3 victory. Shortstop Matt Mandes sparked the attack, blasting a two-run homer over the rightfield fence.
The offensive explosion helped calm any nerves that might have disrupted Connor in his first start. "I was not that nervous. I've played on that field. I knew all their kids. I know we have a really good team. We got five runs in the first two innings and that made it pretty easy. I had a nice little cushion.'
Having played fall ball with Lower Southampton for one season, Connor readily admits he had inside information. "I played with the first six batters in their lineup. I played with Connor Bechtel and Matt Tyler in fall ball. It was nice to face them. I was with them the day before the game and they were telling me what they wanted to see. I said I'm going to throw the exact opposite.'
Connor really threw his usual arsenal of fastballs and sliders, pitches he describes saying, "I have a fastball and a slider. My best pitch is my slider. My fastball isn't very fast but my slider moves a lot so it keeps batters off balance. I used the slider a lot against Lower South. They complained the next day and said I threw it too much.'
The Marlins certainly could not fault Connor's control. He worked the strike zone well, a success even he good-naturedly marvels at. "I don't know how because I can't throw the ball from the infield to first but when I'm pitching, I just throw it and it goes.'
Connor's gutsy outing ignited a win streak for Northampton as they beat Bristol 12-8 the next day and then polished off Newtown 12-9 to complete a solid weekend of play. Speaking from a pitcher's perspective, Connor loves the offensive explosion Northampton showed. "Anthony Zupito is doing really well. I don't think he's made an out in the last several games. We've had a lot of big hits when kids are on base.'
With only two weeks left before playoffs, Northampton has certainly caught fire. Connor likes the present team balance. "A lot of guys are hitting really well. The pitching is pretty good. You put that together and you win games.'
As for his own next shot on the mound, Connor assumes a very realistic approach. "Friday (against Lower Southampton) was my first start of the season. I pitched one other game in relief. It's hard to get a lot of time because we have a lot of good pitchers. We have John Scheffy, Joe Krol, Greg Paprocki, Matt Walsh and CJ Kilgariff.'
After his showing against LoSo, one thing is definite. Whenever coach Collins gives him the nod, Connor will be ready to go.