NORWALK — DJ Mulvany refers to Hunter Semmel as a “gamer,” coach-speak for the type of player you want on your roster. Semmel, the Westhill High School first baseman and versatile pitcher, said of his preferred usage in the latter role, “Just give me the ball.”
It is a perfect marriage.
Semmel, currently slated to work out of the bullpen, had a brief warmup before the 5th inning of today’s game. When Westhill starter Michael Lisinicchia walked the leadoff batter, Mulvany summoned Semmel to the mound. He went on to retire nine straight batters and preserve a 3-1 win over Norwalk in a game between two of the league’s best teams through the first two weeks.
“I love the situations,” said Semmel, still buoyed by his performance. “I always want to be in the situation. Just give me the ball. The 5th inning, 6th inning, 7th inning, when a guy gets on I want to go in.”
Bobby Zmarzlak led off the day with a home run for Westhill, which improved to 4-1 over all and 2-1 in league play. The Vikings also got a run on a bases-loaded walk and another when Joey Skarad reached on a third strike and eventually scored on Lisinicchia’s infield single.
“I have no problem with the way we played,” Norwalk coach Pete Tucci said. “We came ready to play. We played OK. Little things win or lose these types of ballgames. The first-inning home run was nice but that didn’t win or lose the game. It’s the one that makes the little plays that wins, and they did and we didn’t.”
The story of the game, however, as it has been thus far, was the Vikings’ pitching. Lisinicchia and Semmel combined on a 3-hitter. The team has allowed just five runs this season, making good on the depth that figured to be one of their greatest assets.
“So far so good,” Mulvany said. “The outings have been really good. Michael is really coming into his own. He’s confident out there, he’s throwing his offspeed stuff for strikes. One of the things we started to talk about, our defense has been playing really well. Just pitch to contact, you don’t have to do too much. He has good velocity where he can challenge hitters but you don’t have to go out there and try to strike everyone out.”
Mulvany said Semmel’s ability to come in at an instant has created even added value.
“He’s got a knack for throwing strikes,” Semmel said. “He doesn’t waste many warmup pitches. He just goes out there and competes. He’s got starter stuff but he’s most valuable to us in situations like this where he can come in and close a game against a good team, and we can come in the back half of the week and use him again. Right now that’s his role and we will see if it expands. It’s nice to have a guy like that.”
So far the Vikings have been able to weather the loss of Leo Socci, one of their aces, who recently underwent Tommy John surgery on his elbow. Because of rainouts, Westhill has four games this week.
“Losing him stings that much more,” Mulvany said. “We might have enough arms to get through a week like that but with him we definitely have enough arms. We’ll see. He’s going to have a big role.”
Tom Benincaso pitched well for Norwalk (5-3, 3-1), scattering seven hits and pitching out of several jams, stranding eight runners.
Two of the Bears’ hits came in succession in the third inning, singles by Max Berman and Kyle Mossop, which drove in a run. But they also left seven runners.
Then it was time for Semmel, who described his ability to come in with little preparation in his succinct and inimitable manner: “Save it for the game.”