LOCKPORT – In the offseason between his junior and current senior season, Niko Mastoras hatched a plan to get himself some sort of role on the Lockport pitching staff.
Mastoras wasn’t deterred by the fact that he hadn’t pitched regularly since junior high, he was just looking to convince the Lockport coaching staff that he could fill some sort of role.
And it’s a good thing for the Porters that Mastoras proved to be a good salesman for his skills, because without his efforts Wednesday, Lockport’s 7-6 10-inning victory over Providence in the Class 4A Lockport Sectional semifinal likely would have been impossible.
The win puts Lockport (22-13) in Saturday’s sectional championship game, where it will face the winner of Thursday’s semifinal between Lincoln-Way East and Lincoln-Way West.
Mastoras went to the pitcher’s mound to start the seventh inning hoping to give Lockport a chance to win the game in extra innings after a wild top half of that frame. The Porters had trailed 5-3 heading into potentially what could have been their last at-bat.
Jake Moerman started the rally with a one-out single, and pinch hitter Ryan Groberski coaxed a walk to push Moerman up to second base. Lockport elected to bunt the runners over to second and third, and while it left them with just one out to work with, that decision looked prescient moments later when Jake Schindler hit a slow roller to third base.
It would have been a tough play to convert the out, and a rushed throw went awry that not only allowed Schindler to reach, but allowed both Lockport runners to come around and shockingly tie the score at 5-all.
Mastoras then needed to hold Providence (30-7-1) in place, and he had little difficulty doing so. Three consecutive groundouts forced the game into extra innings. And then, after Lockport was unable to push a run across in the top half of the eighth, Mastoras promptly came out and struck out the side to push the game into the ninth inning.
“It was just adrenaline,” Mastoras said. “I’d kind of been struggling at the plate, and wanted to come in and contribute any way that I could.”
Lockport took a 6-5 lead in the top of the ninth inning when Moerman opened the inning by drawing a walk, went to second on a sacrifice bunt, and scored when an ricocheted infield grounder led to a rushed throw to first and allowed Moerman to come all the way around to score the go-ahead run.
Mastoras’ dominant string hit a small hiccup in the Providence half of the ninth when Celtics pinch hitter Will Withers smashed a double, then was moved to third on a groundout, and scored on a Jackson Smith sacrifice fly. Mastoras then surrendered a two-out double to Enzo Infelise and issued a walk, but avoided giving up the game-winning hit by recording a strikeout.
Lockport started its 10th inning rally with two outs. Anthony Francone reached on an infield hit and was moved to second when Anthony Martinez was clipped by a pitch. Moerman then connected for his fourth hit of the day by dropping a clean single into the outfield, which allowed Francone to come around to score.
“I was just taking a deep breath to calm myself down,” Moerman said. “I know it’s always stressful in the heat of the moment, but I was confident in myself that I could get the job done.”
Mastoras issued only a one-out walk in the ninth, but recorded his fifth strikeout and induced a flyout to center to end the Celtics’ season.
Lockport was playing catch-up all game after a disastrous first inning where the first four Providence batters reached and three scored, including a two-run homer from Jackson Smith.
The Porters drew even in their half of the fourth, scoring three runs in an inning fueled by free passes, but Providence reclaimed the lead quickly at 5-3 thanks to three doubles from Jude Allen, Cooper Eggert and AJ Vinci.
But Lockport never let Providence get full separation, something that didn’t surprise head coach Scott Malinowski, who squeezed every ounce of flexibility and skill set from its deep roster.
“I don’t even know how many guys we had play tonight,” Malinowski said. “We had infielders going into pitch, and used six different infielders. Freshman through seniors tonight, first guy on the roster to the last guy on the roster, that’s how this team is.
“Brandan Morrone is the best bench coach around, and he’s the mastermind behind all of that stuff. He deserves some credit for that. He’s just unbelievable at that.”