WORCESTER - As James Allentuck's nerves disappeared, Monument Mountain's fortunes turned for the better Wednesday - and the Spartans are headed for their first-ever state baseball championship game because of it.
Allentuck silenced Northbridge's bats after giving up two runs in the first inning, allowing just a fourth-inning single the rest of the way, and Monument scored all its runs in the fifth inning en route to a 5-2 Division III state semifinal win Wednesday afternoon at Worcester State University.
"I was a little jittery at first," Allentuck said. "I just settled in, and my teammates picked me up like they always do."
The Spartans broke it open with a five-run fifth inning - with all five runs scoring with two outs. Catcher T.J. Shumsky had the big hit of the frame, smacking a two-run double down the left field line to score Brandon Perry and Bobby Kinne - and give the Spartans a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Allentuck struck out six in his 83-pitch outing, retiring 11 straight batters to end the game - including a Brian Carroll flyout to left field to end the game and start the pile-up of happy Spartans in the infield. Monument will face Southern Mass. champion Bellingham in Saturday's state final, scheduled for 3 p.m. at Holy Cross' Fitton Field. The Spartans are the first team from Berkshire County to reach a state final since Mount Everett was the D-III state runner-up in 2012.
"We've been playing with confidence for the last month, probably," Monument coach Tom Hankey said.
And swing the Spartans did in the pivotal fifth. They left four runners on base in the first four innings, including leaving the bases loaded in the third, against Northbridge sophomore pitcher Liam Cunningham. After Allentuck and Nate Cormier both grounded out to third in the fifth, though, seven consecutive Spartan batters reached base.
Trevor McFarland drew a four-pitch walk, and Perry's single to right moved him to third. Kinne hit a 2-2 offering through the left side of the infield to score McFarland and cut Northbridge's lead in half, and Peter Oggiani's seeing-eye single to right on a 3-0 pitch the next at-bat tied the score.
That set the table for Shumsky, who smacked a 2-2 pitch from Cunningham deep and down the left-field line, plating Perry and Kinne for a 4-2 Spartan lead. Dominic DeFelice added an RBI single one batter later to pad the lead.
"I think we were all more patient at the plate. That guy was painting corners, trying to get us to chase," Shumsky said.
"I got to a 2-2 count, so I knew he had to come to me. I was sitting fastball, he threw curve and I tried to put it in play somewhere."
DeFelice's single chased Cunningham, a sophomore right-hander who had thrown 150 pitches in a Central Mass. semifinal win over top seed Assabet a week ago.
"His ball was up," Northbridge coach John Demagian said. "That was the difference. They were reaching and punching the ball the other way. If he gets it down, maybe we get a ground ball and get out of the inning."
Allentuck had thrown 107 pitches last week in a Western Mass. semifinal win over Athol. He allowed an RBI fielder's choice to Cam Richards and an RBI ground-rule double to Mike Quinn in the first inning, but harnessed both his fastball and his slider over the next six innings. He needed just six pitches to get out of the third, eight in the fifth and five in the sixth as Northbridge chased earlier pitches as the innings wore on.
"James was nervous. Once he emotionally settled himself down, kicked himself in the butt, then it was all a matter of executing pitches," Hankey said. "He attacked the zone, and our defense took over. That's the way we're going to do it."
He also got solid defensive play, none of it better than first baseman Mark Marzotto's diving, bare-handed grab of a Richards foul pop for the second out in the sixth.
"He's a soccer goalie, so I think that's one of his drills he uses, that particular layout," Hankey said. "He told me he missed it with the glove and caught it with his bare hand."
Hankey said that, for now, Oggiani will be the starting pitcher for Saturday's state final. Shumsky, a senior captain alongside Oggiani, said the Spartans have "pretty much rode the backs" of Oggiani and Allentuck to reach the state's biggest stage this weekend.
"We've relied on them a lot, and I'm so thankful that they're on the team, that they're pulling us through," he said.
Monument 000 050 0 - 5 6 2
Northbridge 200 000 0 - 2 4 2
James Allentuck and T.J. Shumsky. Liam Cunningham (4 2/3), Mike Quinn (2 1/3) and Christian Polymenos. W - Allentuck. L - Cunningham. 2B - Monument 1 (Shumsky), Northbridge 1 (Quinn).