If Casey Baker had to rank memorable birthdays, his 17th on Friday is right up there. One year after not playing consistently and struggling, Baker was one of the linchpins for getting Connetquot to the county finals.
Baker hit a two-run triple to highlight a five-run second inning, scored two runs and walked twice, one intentional. Baker also recorded the final four outs, getting two strikeouts for No. 1 Connetquot in an 8-3 win over No. 2 Half Hollow Hills West in a Suffolk Class AA winners' bracket baseball semifinal.
Hills West (20-4), whose winning streak ended at 18, will host the winner of Eastport-South Manor and Smithtown East at 4 p.m. Tuesday in an elimination game. The winner of that game plays at Connetquot (20-3) on Wednesday.
Baker hit at the bottom of the order and played sporadically last season. This season, he has hit mostly leadoff and has paced an offense that is averaging 11 runs in the postseason.
"I was a little nervous as a sophomore," Baker said. "I did some things wrong and have done them right this season. It was an attitude change and I am more confident."
Connetquot coach Bob Ambrosini said of Baker: "He's come a long way since last year. He struggled as a sophomore. He brought his game to a new level this year."
Tyler Torborg's RBI single gave Connetquot a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the second and Baker followed with his two-run triple. Mike Rizzitello, who went 2-for-4 with two RBIs, added a run-scoring single.
Connetquot starter James Higgins gave up three hits to open the game and escaped with allowing only one run. He didn't allow a hit over the next four innings, but pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the third and fifth.
"That was big," Higgins said. "I didn't have my best stuff, but I got by. I know my team is going to come back with some hits for me. I had to stay calm with the bases loaded and make some pitches."