June 3, 2014 08:58PM
By Ken Lipshez
TORRINGTON — A.J. Hendrickson isn’t an emotional sort.
The Maloney junior barely speaks above a whisper and when his volume increases a decibel or two, it’s usually in support of his teammates.
But when the Spartans’ season came down to a pressure-packed juncture, he did his speaking with the bat.
Hendrickson slammed a three-run homer over the left field fence in the top of the seventh inning to back his own complete-game pitching performance Tuesday and pace No. 11 Maloney to a 5-2 win over sixth-seeded Torrington in a CIAC Class L second-round game at Fuessenich Park.
Maloney (15-6) earned a quarterfinal home game Friday against No. 14 Masuk, which trounced three seed E.O. Smith, 12-3, on the road Tuesday.
Hendrickson blast — the first for any Spartan hitter this season — came on an 0-1 fastball from right-handed starter Josh Rubino. It came with Hector Gonzalez and Mike Gulino aboard, both of whom were hit by a pitch, and gave Maloney a four-run lead.
Hendrickson calmly returned to the mound after the homer, yielded a solo shot to pinch-hitter Kobe Covington and pitched around an infield error to raise his season record to 6-1 and complete his fourth game in seven starts.
Just another day at the yard.
“I just wanted to get a hit — any hit. It went far enough, I guess,” he said.
The ball short-hopped a concrete wall beyond the fence and came back into the field of play, but the outfielders made no effort to retrieve it and their body language reinforced the truth.
Hendrickson allowed eight hits, walked two and struck out three.
“I didn’t have my best stuff, but I guess it was good enough to get through,” he said.
Classic Hendrickson, according to Maloney coach Howie Hewitt.
“That’s exactly how he pitches,” Hewitt said. “Around the plate most of the time, challenges people, doesn’t get rattled. In fact, I’d like him once in a while to get a little emotional. I don’t even think he was emotional after hitting a three-run homer.”
The biggest defensive moment for Maloney came in the bottom of the sixth with the Spartans nursing a one-run lead.
Shane Bierfeldt drew a leadoff walk and took second on a sacrifice bunt. With two out, Manney Rijo ripped a single to center. Jon Walter came up throwing and hit Gulino’s catcher’s mitt on the fly.
Bierfeldt was dead to rights, the lead was intact and the stage was set for Hendrickson (2-for-4, 3 RBI) to add the exclamation point.
“I had to get it there,” Walter said. “That was my run. If I don’t get it there, that’s on me. I have a lot of pressure on me out there and I want to do it for my team. That was a huge run.”
Torrington (16-7) took a 1-0 lead in the first inning and it could have been a lot more.
Stanley Rijo led off with a stinging double, took third on a sacrifice and scored on a single by Dom Sabia (2-for-4). A walk and a single loaded the bases, but Rubino hit into a force play made by shortstop Hector Gonzalez.
The Spartans tied it in the second. Cam Fahey worked a leadoff walk and scooted to second on a wild pitch. A single by Christian Kiss sent him to third and Walter lifted a sacrifice fly to right field.
Both pitchers settled in. Hendrickson retired nine straight before yielding successive singles with two out in the fifth, but the runners were stranded.
Maloney took the lead in the sixth. Gulino lined a ball off the glove of third baseman Mitch Zagrodnick and pulled into second with a hustle double. He alertly took third on Hendrickson’s fly to center and Fahey delivered him with a first-pitch single to center.
Alex Lespier (2-for-4) and Logan Hayes followed with singles, but the Spartans left the bases loaded. An inning later, Hendrickson made sure it didn’t matter.
Torrington stranded seven, four in scoring position.
“That usually tells the story this time of the year,” Torrington coach Patrick Richardson said. “In the tournament, everything tightens up. They were a quality team. They made great plays.”