MILFORD — Attleboro High’s Eoin Kelleher took the bats out of the hands of the No. 3 seed Hilltoppers of Durfee High.
Relying on his split-fingered fastball, Kelleher pitched a three-hitter without issuing a walk in a mound masterpiece for the Bombardier baseball team in Wednesday’s MIAA Div. 1 South Sectional semifinal at Feno Field Wednesday.
The senior righthander faced only 23 Durfee batters and did not allow a baserunner to reach second base as Attleboro took home a 2-0 victory to reach the Div. 1 South final.
The No. 11 seed Bombardiers (14-9) next meet No. 4 seed Taunton for the third time this season on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Campanelli Stadium in Brockton for the South championship. The Tigers have trumped the Bombardiers twice in their Hockomock League Kelley-Rex Division clashes.
Kelleher (6-3, 2.41 ERA) notched first-pitch strikes against 17 Hilltopper batters while not allowing a hit until the fourth inning nor a leadoff batter to reach base until the sixth as he needed only 80 pitches to torment the No. 2 seed Hilltoppers.
Kelleher retired the Durfee side in order in the first (on eight pitches), second (on 12 pitches), third (on nine pitches) and fifth (on 11 pitches) innings.
“That was vintage Eoin,” AHS coach Steve Dunlea said of the St. Olaf College-bound Kelleher. “He threw strikes and the defense was strong — no walks, no errors, you play clean you have a chance to win any game.”
Faced with the scenario of Durfee having the potential tying run at the plate in the seventh inning after allowing a two-out single, Kelleher stared down the Big Three Conference MVP and Player of the Year in Hilltopper pitcher Curtis Perry (7-1, 4.30), the No. 5 batter in the order, inducing a two-strike groundout to Tim Callahan at second base for the game-ending out.
“He did a great job, he kept us off balance,” Durfee coach Dave Umshneider said of Kelleher. “He was right around the zone all day, we could never get anything going. We never could put any pressure on them.”
In the meantime, AHS plated single runs in the second and third innings to support Kelleher, while having another threat wiped away in the sixth inning.
The first hit that Kelleher allowed, a two-out single to Alex Dominguez in the fourth inning, quickly vanished as Bryant University-bound junior centerfielder Alvaro Espinal gunned down the Hilltopper trying to stretch the base hit into a double with a relay to Callahan for the tag at second base.
Kelleher surrendered a leadoff single down the third base line in the sixth inning. But, the Bombardier retired the next three Hilltoppers without the ball ever leaving the infield, with Callahan and first baseman Lorenzo Wilson taking popups for the final two outs.
Callahan (four assists, four putouts) at second base, Nick McMahon (three assists) at shortstop, Mason Houle (two assists) at third base and Wilson (10 putouts) at first base combined defensive skills to thwart the Hilltoppers.
Kelleher faced only 12 batters, throwing 37 pitches through four innings, finding a pace and rhythm well-suited to his standards.
“I was never really able to get one (breaking ball) down,” Kelleher said of his fastballs and split-fingered fastball repertoire of pitches. “I got the splitter to do what I want with it. I just tried to groove it down there,” he added of attacking the plate for first pitch strikes.
“We wanted to keep them on our pace — I let my defense do the work,” Kelleher added of the nine ground ball outs and seven airball outs taken. “It was a complete team win, that was amazing.”
For the 16th time this season, the Bombardiers played a game decided by margins of two runs or in extra innings.
AHS took the lead in the second inning. Wilson hammered a two-strike, leadoff single into left field, advanced on the first of two hits off the bat of senior catcher Troy VanVliet into leftfield, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on McMahon’s sacrifice flyball into center field.
The Bombardiers created a two-run margin in their next at-bat. With one out, Callahan drew a walk, advanced into scoring position on a balk and scored on Camden Fitzpatrick’s opposite field, two-out RBI double down the left field line.
In the Attleboro sixth inning, Espinal wound up at second base, legging out a botched infield popup by Durfee. He moved to third on a wild pitch, but was called out for leaving third base too hastily on a Fitzpatrick flyball to right field.
Then to add more drama, Wilson belted his second hit of the game to the shortstop hole with two outs, but Wilson, who thought a balk was being called, was tagged for the third out as the Hilltoppers executed the hidden-ball trick.
AHS mustered merely five hits off Perry, but all but two Bombardiers (one walk, one strikeout) put the ball into play.
“We got it done,” Kelleher said. “We generated some hits when we needed them and played great defense. It shows that the Hockomock League is the best in the state.”