NEWINGTON — A.J. Hendrickson and his Maloney High baseball teammates benefit from having the big guy behind the plate.
Senior catcher Mike Gulino hits, throws out baserunners and most importantly provides the leadership that young teams desperately need.
So when Hendrickson fired a two-hit shutout to notch the Spartans’ first win of the season — a white-knuckle 1-0 CCC South victory over Newington at Alumni Field Saturday — he was quick to pay tribute to his savvy batterymate.
“He helps keep me cool,” Hendrickson said. “He keeps everybody cool. He’s a great leader.”
Gulino’s leadership paid its biggest dividends as Newington (0-2) tried every small-ball tactic in the head coach’s manual to push across a run.
The Indians had runners on the corners with one out in the fifth when Gulino defused a delayed double steal. Isaiah Rivera was perched on third with one out in the sixth and Gulino picked him off. Moments earlier, Gulino and Hendrickson allowed a potential game-tying squeeze bunt to go foul.
“If that ball’s an inch to left, we’re still playing,” coach Howie Hewitt said. “I told the kids to enjoy what they’re seeing behind the plate. He makes every play.”
In the seventh, Hendrickson walked the bases loaded with one out but escaped unscathed.
The key play came when he scooped up a potential squeeze bunt and flipped to Gulino for the second out on a force play. Right fielder Alex Lespier, who turned in the game’s defensive gem with a running catch in the gap three innings earlier, secured the game-clinching out moments later.
Hendrickson had a no-hitter with one out in the fifth when Matt DeDominicis laid down a perfect bunt single. Rivera had the only other safety leading off the sixth. He relied mostly on the fastball and mixed in some curves. He admitted he had some nervous moments, but Gulino was there for him.
Maloney scored the game’s lone run in the second innings off starter Chad Korte. Cam Fahey drew a leadoff walk and took second on a one-out walk to Jon Walter. Hector Gonzalez was hit by a pitch to load the bases and Pat Donahue came on in relief. Kyle Hartenstein greeting him with a stinging single to right and Fahey scored.
The young Spartans are growing up fast.
“I told the kids that we shouldn’t be referred to as inexperienced anymore, just baseball players,” Hewitt said. “We have talent, but with any new season you have to feel your way through.”
Gulino and Hendrickson led the Spartans (1-1) with two hits each. Maloney stranded 12 runners, nine of them in scoring position.
Hendrickson walked six and struck out four.
Sheehan 6, Shelton 1: Brandon Rentas clubbed a grand slam in the third inning as the Titans cruised to a SCC Housatonic victory at home.
Paul Gozzo (RBI double), Nolan Cloutier (2-for-3, triple, run), Pete Abate (Sac fly) added to the Sheehan attack.
Turner French (1-0) went the distance to earn the win for the Titans (2-1 overall, 1-0 Housy). The hurler fanned six and walked one.
John Boles (0-1) took the loss for the Gaels (0-3, 0-1).
Cheshire 4, Amity 2: Dan Schock smacked a three-run home run over the right-field fence at Burt Leventhal Field in a SCC Housy Ram victory.
Schock (2-for-3) also added two stolen bases to help Cheshire earn its victory of the season.
Cooper Mrowka (2-for-2, 2 stolen bases) also had a strong day at the plate for the Rams (1-2 overall, 1-0 Housy).
Adam vonFischer (1-0) went six innings for the victory. He surrendered seven hits, no walks and two runs. He struck out seven.
Ethan Lonardelli picked up his first save of the season. He had two strikeouts to close out the game.
Amity dropped to 0-3 and 0-1.
Hamden 6, Lyman Hall 0: Ben Miller went the distance for the Trojans in a SCC interdivisional loss at Pat Wall Field.
Miller (0-1) dropped to 0-1. He yielded two earned run on 10 hits and no walks.
Tyler Mitchell (1-0) earned the win for Green Dragons (1-2). He allowed just four LH hits in six innings. Dan Russell’s double was the lone extra base knock for the Trojans (1-2).
Greenwich 8, Southington 0: Joe Rivera and Kyle Cole each had two hits for the Blue Knights in an out-of-conference loss on the road.
The Southington offense hammered out nine hits but couldn’t cross the plate.
Cardinals pitcher Mike Gennarro improved to 2-0 by going four innings for Greenwich (3-0).
Southington starter Kyle Cole (1-1) took the loss for the Blue Knights (1-1).