WALPOLE — It had all the makings of a taut, throwback classic, a pitchers’ duel between longtime baseball rivals Monadnock Regional High and Fall Mountain Regional in the quarterfinals of the Division III tournament. No one foresaw an 11-1 Monadnock romp.
Right-handers Kevin Putnam of Monadnock and Fall Mountain’s Domonic Van Leare-Nutting were dealing on a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon at Hubbard Park, mowing down hitters without mercy. Putnam struck out seven batters — five looking — and retired 10 in a row at one point in the first four innings. Van Leare-Nutting set down the first seven Huskies he faced.
Two swings in the third inning changed everything.
First, Monadnock’s No. 8 hitter, Trevor Heise, squared up on a fastball and lined it into left-center for a double. Coming off a four-RBI game against Newport in the preliminary round, Heise said he hit the ball so sweetly he never felt a thing when he connected, the ultimate hitters’ nirvana.
One error and two batters later, Putnam scooped up a low, inside curve and smacked it down the left-field line. The ball looked like it wanted to turn left, but continued on a line until it clanged off the foul pole for a three-run homer. All that was missing was Putnam waving it fair — like a certain Hall of Fame catcher did with the Red Sox in the World Series some 46 years ago. Carlton Fisk, of course, grew up in nearby Charlestown.
“I thought it was going foul myself,” Putnam said. “Most hyped I’ve ever been.”
From there, Monadnock pressured the Wildcats into mistakes, ran the bases liberally (six stolen bases) and steadily built its lead with three more runs in the fourth, two in the fifth and three in the seventh. Take away Heise’s double and Putnam’s blast and both coaches agreed it could have been an entirely different ballgame.
“Just one little thing can change everything in a baseball game. That ball goes foul, who knows,” Monadnock Coach Tom Cote said.
“The one that caught the foul pole, that broke our back a little bit, really,” Fall Mountain Coach Lance Cormier added.
Both coaches are hardly strangers in this rivalry and bring a generation of tradition to the diamond. Cote wore the Husky green under Coach Gary Rouleau, the ace of the staff when Monadnock was contending for titles annually under coaches Eddie Main, Paul Breckell and Rouleau. Cormier, in turn, played (but lost) in the championship game with the Wildcats in 1988. In the two decades that followed, Coach Hank Beecher’s clubs battled the Huskies year after year, including several intense encounters in the playoffs.
Both coaches say their teams have continued that tradition in what has been a tumultuous two years dealing with COVID-19. The Huskies, in fact, played only nine games this year against five teams and had several games canceled.
The Wildcats were 2-16 in 2019, so reaching the quarterfinals this year marks a remarkable turnaround. Cormier said their goal was to be competitive and make the playoffs — they accomplished that and more.
“We played hard right to the end, and I’m proud of them,” he said. “It didn’t really feel like an 11-1 game. We didn’t give up; we picked each other up.”
Putnam held Fall Mountain to four hits and struck out 10. He lost the shutout in the bottom of the seventh when Ryan Schadler scored Fall Mountain’s only run after Putnam gave up two singles and a walk. Normally the team’s closer, he said it’s the sharpest he’s felt all season.
“I just felt like we came to play,” said Putnam, who pitched with pace and purpose, taking no time between offerings. “Everyone played amazing today.”
Van Leare-Nutting gave up only four hits in 3.1 innings, but an assortment of walks, hit batters and wild pitches pushed Monadnock’s lead to 6-0 before he was relieved by Hayden Chandler in the fourth. That trend continued to the end, as the Huskies had only eight hits, four of them in their three-run seventh inning.
Monadnock’s Nate Doyle, who was in the middle of several rallies, and Heise led the Huskies with two hits apiece. Hayden Haddock was on base three times and scored three runs. No one had a multiple-hit game for Fall Mountain.
Monadnock moves on to play Hopkinton in the semifinals Wednesday in Hopkinton.