Horton, Arlington master North Rockland
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THIELLS, N.Y. — Matt Horton is expressionless when he’s on the mound. He doesn’t smile or scowl, grunt or pump his fist, or display any morsel of emotion as he locks his jaw and hides his eyes under the brim of his cap.
The only time the Arlington senior left-hander showed any type of emotion when he winced with two outs in the seventh inning on Friday, moments after a screaming one-hopper smacked off his leg and North Rockland’s potential winning run reached base.
“I got hit and I did not know where the ball was,” Horton said. “I didn’t even feel it because of all the adrenaline going through my body.”
Horton, though, wiped off the lone hint of adversity and polished off a masterful pitching performance. A game-ending fly-ball to center capped Arlington’s 1-0 win over eighth-seeded North Rockland, leading the No. 9 Admirals into Saturday’s quarterfinals.
“Matt came out focused,” Arlington coach Al Hammel said. “This is his senior year. He’s had an excellent career here at Arlington. He’s an excellent pitcher and I’m very proud of him and the way the guys played behind him today.”
Horton, who’ll pitch at Cornell, was efficient from the start. He allowed just three hits and walked only two, throwing 72 of his 102 pitches for strikes.
The game’s lone run was the afternoon’s first batter. Arlington’s Tyler Bruno led off the game with a walk from Red Raiders starter Joe Anselmi and scored when the next hitter, Danny Lowndes, belted a double to left.
Arlington had only six base-runners the rest of the way — including a no-out, bases-loaded situation where it didn’t score in the fourth. But Horton and exceptional outfield defense locked North Rockland down.
“I usually just go out there and throw strikes,” Horton said. My velocity wasn’t reall there today in the beginning but got up there in the end. And my fielders really helped me out.”
Admirals centerfielder P.J. Zipser, who ran down four balls in the gap and one deep over his head to preserve the shutout. Rightfielder Kieran Mitchell also made a run-saving catch on a deep fly-ball to gap by Wardy Polanco.
“I told the guys just to play back and don’t let them beat you over your heads,” Horton said. “Wardy Polanco. He hit the ball hard but they made some great catches.
“All year long we’ve preached defensive play, in the outfield and the infield, and this is exactly why,” Hammel said. “P.J. Zipser really came through for us with some big plays.”
North Rockland had only two baserunners in the first five innings, stranding them on second both times. In the seventh, Anselmi drew a one-out walk to give the Red Raiders hope. After a fly-out, Nick Connell laced a grounder that richocheted off Horton and rolled towards first base. Horton tried to shovel the thrown but Connell slid in safely head-first.
With the tying and winning runs on, Horton settled down and got a fly-out to Zipser to end it.
Arlington, which ended the season beating Section 1 powers Mahopac, Suffern and Somers, travel to face No. 1 Mamaroneck in the quarterfinals on Saturday. Given the way the Admirals have pitched and play defense of late, there’s no reason to think this group isn’t capable of pulling off another upset.
“We feel good about the way we are playing right now,” Hammel said. “We finished strong at the end of the year and we feel that we’re carrying it over into the postseason and doing it at the right time.”
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