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Sweet and cool approach has Spartans on track

MERIDEN — The Maloney baseball team has found that there’s no better way to cut through a little springtime pressure than collectively partaking in an icy, sweet confection at a bargain price.

For the last few weeks of the season, the Spartans have Tuesday nights circled on their calendar because that’s when Kiwi Spoon, a purveyor of frozen yogurt on North Colony Road in Wallingford, has a popular promotion.

For $3, customers receive empty cups that can be filled up with the flavor of choice. The Spartans found that they can go up and up and up to the point that their $3 is well-invested.

The Spartans’ postseason run has been just as productive and equally sweet, and as long as it continues, Kiwi Spoon can save them seats for Tuesday nights.

They made their usual Kiwi Spoon appearance Tuesday after a satisfying 5-2 win against No. 6 Torrington at Fuessenich Park in the second round of the Class L tournament. The win allowed the 11th-seeded Spartans (15-7) the rarity of regaining the home-field advantage because No. 14 Masuk (15-8) pounded three seed E.O. Smith 12-3 Tuesday afternoon in Storrs.

Today’s quarterfinal clash is scheduled for a 5 p.m. first pitch at Ceppa Field.

“Kiwi Spoon: You gotta go to see why we go on Tuesday night,” Maloney coach Howie Hewitt said.

Hewitt also noted center fielder Jon Walter became the team’s top construction engineer, building a tower that easily outdistanced the nearest competition, to win the Spartans’ Jack and the Beanstalk Award.

But nothing could be any sweeter or any larger than the play Walter made to take all the fight out of Torrington.

The Spartans had just taken a 2-1 lead in the top of the sixth on an RBI single by Cam Fahey when the Red Raiders mounted a counterattack. Shane Bierfeldt drew a leadoff walk and took second on a sacrifice bunt. With two out, Manney Rijo belted a single to center. Walter played it perfectly and uncorked a strike to catcher Mike Gulino from medium center.

Bierfeldt had no chance. Inning over. Lead preserved.

“I have never been part of a high school situation where the outfielders are so good collectively,” Hewitt said. “You might have a great center fielder and the left and right fielder are kind of holding their own and hoping the center fielder catches them all.

“With our guys, [in Monday’s 7-6 win over Rockville] Alex Lespier was catching balls in right field. Two games ago Christian [Kiss] is throwing guys out and Jon throwing out the guy today.”

Torrington coach Patrick Richardson had no intention of making a guest appearance at the Wallingford Kiwi to see Walter defend his title, but he gained an appreciation for the senior’s defensive skill.

“He had to make a perfect throw on that play and he did,” Richardson said. “We won that way in the first round, but we had to take a chance there with two outs.”

Just like he was for Hewitt’s late-surging basketball team in February, Gulino was in the middle of the action.

He smoked a pitch in the first inning, but right at the second baseman for a double play. He hit a vicious liner to left in the third only to see Dom Sabia made Torrington’s defensive gem of the day by picking it off the grasstops. In the sixth with the score 1-1, he raked a double off the third baseman’s glove and didn’t stop running until he secured second base.

“I knew I hit it good,” Gulino said. “When I rounded first I saw it was rolling for awhile and I knew it would be a tough play to make. I decided to get aggressive and take two.”

He maintained his aggressive approach. When the next batter pitcher A.J. Hendrickson skied to center, Gulino dashed for third, setting the table for Fahey’s hit.

“That ball was deep, but [the center fielder and left fielder] almost collided and didn’t have room to throw, so I thought that would be my best chance to get to third,” Gulino said.

Hewitt has instilled that aggressive approach into his base-runners.

“We tag on most fly balls,” he said. “I really don’t know why more people don’t. Obviously, if the ball’s in front of you we’re not tagging. If kids are catching them flatfooted, we’re taking it.”

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