Championship-bound Pittsfield’s pitching talented – and deep
It looked like the Colebrook Academy baseball team was catching a break. The Mohawks were trailing Pittsfield 5-0 in the Division IV semifinals, but Kris Perkins, the Panthers ace who had spent the first four innings befuddling the Colebrook hitters, was in center field to start the fifth, with the mound duties instead entrusted to fellow junior Chris Farr.
Seemingly awarded an opportunity to rally, the Mohawks were instead about to find out what the rest of Division IV had already seen. The Panthers’ pitching depth goes more than one man deep – which they proved when Farr and Jed Eastman, another junior, struck out five over the final three innings to send Pittsfield to its first championship game since 2001.
“We’ve got three guys. It’s been those three all year,” Coach Rob Stockman said. “They work together, and if one kid’s struggling a little bit, then the next kid steps up. That’s how we do it.”
They haven’t struggled often. Perkins has been the
No. 1, going 8-1 with a 0.89 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 55 1∕3 innings, but Farr (6-0, 2.00, 58 strikeouts in 38 1∕3 innings) has been terrific in the second spot, and opponents haven’t exactly lucked out when Eastman (2-2, 2.17, 34 strikeouts in 19 1∕3 innings) has had to take the mound.
“Our pitching’s been A-plus all year,” Stockman said. “It’s been a great luxury. … You set up your rotation for the year, and each one, it doesn’t matter who you play, you put that kid out there and we’re always going to be in the game.”
“We just feel dominant, and we feel like we’re untouchable when we’re on the mound,” Farr said. “There’s a lot of confidence. If we mess up, we have each other’s backs on the mound.”
A deep staff has meant that each pitcher has had his chance to shine – and Stockman said each one wants to be the one that shines brightest.
“They push each other,” he said. “If Kris comes out and throws a shutout, then Farr wants to throw a shutout. Then Jed wants to throw one, and they just battle each other. … They’ve got to work hard, because they know (otherwise) I won’t play them. I go with who’s throwing well.”
Early on, nobody was. Pittsfield started 4-1, but there were warning signs as the Panthers allowed eight runs in a win over Sunapee and seven in a win over an Epping team that didn’t score that many runs in any other game all season. The struggles came to a head on April 25, when the Panthers were crushed by Newmarket, 9-3.
For a team that was expected to be one of the best in the division, a major turnaround was needed. The coach knew it, and the players did too.
“These guys, after that Newmarket game, we kind of looked at ourselves and said, ‘Maybe we’re not as good as we think we are,’ ” Stockman said. “I think that was a humbling experience for these guys.”
Led by their pitchers, the Panthers woke up. Farr shut out Hinsdale, 8-0, Perkins blanked Derryfield, 10-0, and Pittsfield took off, winning nine of its last 10 games and closing with a six-game winning streak that included four shutouts.
“We were just dominant,” Farr said.
As Pittsfield was chasing a top seed for the tournament, Perkins stopped giving up runs. Utilizing excellent control and a snapping curveball, the junior embarked on a scoreless streak that he stretched to 40 innings with his performance in the semifinals.
“I don’t care what level you’re at. That’s almost six games without letting up a run,” Stockman said. “He deserves to be recognized. He’s been great, and he gives these guys a lot of confidence when he’s on the mound.”
The streak has included 13 1∕3 innings against increasingly challenging playoff competition, but Perkins has stayed low-key about the accomplishment.
“You kind of mix up pitches, keep throwing strikes,” he said. “I just try to clear my mind when I’m pitching, and make sure I’m thinking about strikes and thinking about the strike zone. Just throw the ball.”
The pitching depth has been on display during the tournament. Teams often try to draw every inning they can out of their top pitcher’s arm in June, but Stockman never had to face that pressure. He had no reservations about starting Farr in the opener against Portsmouth Christian (a 6-2 win), which allowed him to save Perkins for the quarterfinals and a 2-0 win over Profile.
And in the semifinals, when the opportunity arose to keep Perkins fresh for today’s final against top-seeded Littleton, Stockman jumped on it, never once thinking, even though he was giving the No. 2 team in the tournament three innings to score five runs, that he was taking a risk.
“I had confidence in all three of our guys coming in in that situation and doing the job,” he said.
Farr got the ball first, and then Eastman got his chance, striking out two – including the game’s last batter – in 1 1∕3 innings to come through in a spot his coach told him he’d get.
“He’s been telling me, ‘You’re going to pitch, you’re going to pitch, you’re going to pitch,’ ” he said. “It feels pretty good.”
It’s been impressive, but the run’s not over. Pittsfield still has the championship game, as well as each pitcher’s senior season after that – and Stockman’s excited for what his rotation can do for an encore.
“No matter what happens (today), I hope they come back even greedier than this year,” he said. “Push themselves even farther, and we’ll see what happens.”
(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter @dbonifant.)