By Ed Niser
GROTON — Groton-Dunstable started Monday afternoon’s quarterfinal game wound a little tightly after going down 1-0 in the first inning to Northbridge.
But in the fourth, the Crusaders proved that they are worthy of the No. 1 seed in the Division 3 Central Mass tournament.
Groton-Dunstable shortstop Kyle Priest executed a perfect suicide squeeze that brought Gavin Keough across from third with the tying run. The Crusaders put up two more runs on three hits in the inning, as they cruised to a 6-1 victory over No. 9 Northbridge.
“I think that kind of got the momentum back,” said Groton-Dunstable head coach Matt Leblanc on Priest’s squeeze. “In the early going, we had three line drive outs. It took a little bit of wind out of our sails, but we had big hits up and down the lineup. Once we got that first run in, we knew we would be okay.”
Groton-Dunstable advanced to Wednesday’s semifinal against No. 5 Nipmuc under the lights at Hudson’s Riverside Park. (See Nashobavalleyvoice.com for full story and photo gallery.)
“We know what Nipmuc is capable of, but they had a lot of trouble the first time hitting that heater that Joe (Simeone) throws,” said senior starting pitcher Justin Watt. “We are fully aware about what they can do. Nipmuc was one of the better teams we have faced all season.”
Watt struck out 10 over 7 innings, while allowing three hits with no walks.
“I was able to hit my spots most of the time with my fastball,” said Watt. “I was getting the ground balls and fly balls. I didn’t want to take my mind off what was important. I have full faith in my defense.”
Groton-Dunstable center fielder Gavin Keough led the offense going 2 for 3 with a triple and an RBI. Junior designated hitter Joe Simeone was 2 for 3 with a pair of singles and a run scored.
“We needed to get something going, we weren’t ourselves in those first few innings,” said Keough.
“I really got a good connection on that ball I hit for a triple. That squeeze was a huge play in that spot by Kyle. Being at third, I had confidence that he would get it down and he did — that really got us going.”
Groton-Dunstable roughed up Northbridge starter Liam Cunningham for four earned runs on 10 hits.
Northbridge got on the board in the first inning on a throwing error as Koby Schofer scampered across from third.
Watt held the Rams’ offense in check through the next two innings, allowing just one batter to reach on an error.
Leading 3-1 heading into the fifth inning, Groton-Dunstable tacked on two more insurance runs behind an RBI triple to the gap in left by Keough that brought across leadoff hitter Chris Lattini from first. Keough later scored on a well struck ball down the first base line by catcher Jacob Barnes to make it 5-1.