H.S. BASEBALL: Plymouth South hits the mark with third shot at Whitman-Hanson

H.S. BASEBALL: Plymouth South hits the mark with third shot at Whitman-Hanson

Twice already this month, the Whitman-Hanson Regional High baseball team quieted Plymouth South’s bats and sent them tumbling to a loss.

Plymouth South wanted another shot to prove itself against its Patriot League counterpart and when faced with Whitman-Hanson again Wednesday, it didn’t miss the mark.

With even more at stake this time around than the two previous encounters, sixth-seeded Plymouth South received a complete-game effort from senior pitcher Hunter Dean, timely hitting and strong defense to take down No. 3 Whitman-Hanson, 4-2, on the road in the Division 2 South quarterfinals.

Plymouth South (13-3) advances to Friday’s sectional semifinal at No. 2 Milton.

“We wanted it bad,” said Dean as Plymouth South suffered an 8-1 loss in the Patriot League Cup final to Whitman-Hanson a week earlier. “Ever since they beat us the first two times we just wanted to come out and show them what we could do.

For Whitman-Hanson (12-3), it was another short-lived tournament run under skipper Pat Cronin, who has resurrected the program since taking over in 2016. Whitman-Hanson has won double-digit games in each of Cronin’s now five seasons at the helm, but each year it has failed to make it past the quarterfinal round.

All the defeats have come by less than three runs as sustaining offense in the postseason has hampered Whitman-Hanson, including in this latest loss as it only mustered four hits against Dean.

“The key is varsity reps at the plate. The key is hitting,” Cronin said. “I think we were hitting .267 as a team and we were 12-2. That’s doing everything right, getting great pitching. … That’s the last piece that we have to work on and part of that is varsity reps and COVID got in the way of that.

Plymouth South made the most of its third chance against Whitman-Hanson by jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning.

After Whitman-Hanson starting pitcher Tommy Marshall, who tossed a complete-game as well and allowed 10 hits, quickly got the first two outs of the contest, Plymouth South recorded three straight hits, including Tom Sullivan (2-for-3) lacing a double down the right field line to open the scoring. Plymouth South pushed its second run of the frame across via a passed ball.

Whitman-Hanson got a run back in the bottom of the second with Jaden Booker showing good instincts on the bases to score on Aidan Barry’s fielder’s choice back to the pitcher.

Dean kept Whitman-Hanson at-bay after that, holding them to just a single each in the third and fourth while at times walking a tightrope.

Dean, who hadn’t pitched against Whitman-Hanson this season, ran into control issues in the sixth. He hit a batter and issued three of his five walks in the inning. One of those free passes brought in a run for Whitman-Hanson to get within 4-2.

But the 6-foot-6 Dean escaped any further damage as he got Connor Sottak to ground out back to him to end the threat. Even after laboring through 27 pitches in the sixth and his pitch count reaching triple digits, Dean slammed the door shut with a 1-2-3 seventh inning, just his second clean frame of his outing.

“Given the fact that we were playing Whitman-Hanson for the third time, we needed to show them something different,” said Plymouth South coach Walt Fust of opting to start Dean on the mound. “Hunter, being as tall as he is, and his delivery just gives a completely different look and I think that was something we felt that would give us a little bit of an advantage coming into it and it paid off.

“He didn’t get rattled on the mound. Things could have easily fallen apart in that bases loaded situation and we came out of it only giving up one run, which was huge.”

Dean also had the good fortunate of a tremendous defense behind him. In the third, catcher Brycen Tetler made a diving snag on a popped up bunt and first baseman Cam Cripps turned a 3-6 inning-ending double play. The next inning, shortstop Matt Cassidy, with the help of second basemen Nathan Ruehs, turned a more traditional 6-4-3 twin killing.

Plymouth South extended its advantage to 3-1 in the top of the fourth on a two-out RBI single to center by Robbie Clarke and manufactured an insurance run in the sixth on a sacrifice fly by Kyle Affsa to plate Nathan Ferry.

“The kids were locked in and they were eager at the opportunity to play a team like Whitman-Hanson that’s so good and so well-coached. They do a phenomenal job with their kids,” Fust said. “Our kids were just excited about the opportunity and they just didn’t want it to go to waste.

While Whitman-Hanson got an efficient outing from Marshall, it couldn’t complete the tough task of beating a team for third time this season.

“That was my concern,” said Cronin of another matchup with Plymouth South. “It’s a good baseball team. We had some very, very good games with them. I told Walt how impressed I was with them the first game and then we got them the second game, jumped on them and they sort of reversed the game today. You worry about that, but I also don’t want to harp on that because they played a terrific baseball game.

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