DANBURY -- The quest has begun and with a bang.
In search of their first New England Collegiate Baseball League championship, the Danbury Westerners started their season with a 7-3 victory over the Mystic Schooners Friday night at Rogers Park.
"The most impressive thing today was our pitching got a lot of ground balls and we made all the plays, and that's something that hurt us last year," said Danbury manager Jamie Shevchik, whose team turned three double plays. "And we had timely hitting, a lot of two-out hits, and we did enough to get the `W' today."
The timeliest of those hits came from right fielder Scott Hagen, who launched a three-run home run over the right field fence in the bottom of the fourth to stake the Westerners to what was then a 6-1 lead.
"The infield was in and I was just trying to get a ball in the air," Hagan said. "The kid [Mystic starter Jose Lopez] was throwing first-pitch fastballs to everyone so I was sitting on that. I just got a good piece on it, and I didn't think it was out right off the bat . . . I was lucky it got over."
Lucky or not, it was more than enough for Danbury starting pitcher Brett Houseal, who scattered six hits and a walk while allowing three runs in seven innings. Although his defense committed three errors, Houseal was also the beneficiary of a pair of key couple plays, including one with men on the corners and one out in the seventh inning.
"He's not overpowering, but he just pitches to contact, he competes, fills up the strike zone with a lot of pitches," Shevchik said. "And if you're going to do that you're going to get a lot of swings . . . and for the most part they put the ball on the ground and [Danbury] made those plays behind him."
Lopez struck out three Westerners in the first two innings, but Danbury broke through with three runs in the third. The scoring started when third baseman Zach Shank yanked a double to the center field fence, allowing Jake Gronsky to score.
The Westerners touched up Lopez for seven hits and six runs in four innings, striking out six times in the process.
Shank came through with a big game at the plate, going 3-for-5 with two doubles, two RBIs and a run scored.
Ben Brewster and Branden Adkins each contributed a scoreless inning in relief of Houseal, while Gronsky (2-for-3, two runs scored) and Mike Orefice (2-for-3, run scored) also registered multi-hit games for Danbury.
"We're going to rely on those type of guys the entire year. Somebody's going to have to be the hero every day. It's not going to be Shank every day; it's not going to be Hagan every day," Shevchik said. "There might be a different MVP of the game offensively every day. Hopefully guys are going to start emerging as we start playing."
The Westerners return to action Saturday at 6: 30 p.m. when they host the North Adams SteepleCats.
MYSTIC 000 100 200--3 7 3
DANBURY 003 301 00x--7 11 3
Records: Mystic 0-1; Danbury 1-0.
Batteries: M--Jose Lopez (L, 0-1), Eric Stone (5), Stephen Marino (7) and Jake Romanski; D--Brett Houseal (W, 1-0), Ben Brewster (8), Branden Adkins (9) and Michael Thomas. SO: Lopez 6, Adkins 2, Marino 2, Stone 2, Brewster 1, Houseal 1. BB: Houseal 1, Lopez 1, Marino 1. HR: D--Scott Hagan. 2B: M-- Scott Kelleher; D-- Zach Shank 2, Mike Orefice. RBI: M--Bob Cook 2, Blaise Lezynski; D--Hagan 3, Shank 2, Andrew Garner.