HYANNIS, Mass. -– There were no words of wisdom, motivational message, or encouragement of any kind that Barnstable baseball coach Joe DeMartino offered pinch-hitter Tim Biliouris with the game on the line. He simply inserted his back-up first baseman, certain that the senior slugger would work his magic.
With his coach's confidence behind him, Biliouris came through in the clutch, hitting a two-run single back up the box in the bottom of the seventh as the Red Raiders rallied for a 4-3 non-league win over New Bedford under cloudy skies on the Cape Monday.
DeMartino had eight other subs he could have called on to get the job done, but the decision to send Biliouris to the dish was an easy one.
"Tim has had a bunch of big pinch-hits for us the past couple of years, so I trust him in any situation to go up there and put a good swing on the ball, and he did," said DeMartino. "He's done it before so I knew he could do it again."
Biliouris' heroic hit made a winner out of classmate George Bent. The fast-working righty scattered five hits, two walks and struck out nine batters. He was also superb down the stretch, retiring the final nine batters he faced, six by way of the K.
"We've gotten walked-off twice this year [against Falmouth and Bridgewater-Raynham] and it felt awful, so it's nice to be on this side of it for a change," said Bent. "It's pretty awesome."
Righty Mike Rapoza absorbed the tough-luck loss for New Bedford. Up until the fateful final frame he carried the Whalers, allowing just six hits while also collecting two himself, including a towering two-run home run in the first inning.
"They got that bomb in the first, but we said we weren't going to let that sink us," said Biliouris. "We just kept chipping away and chipping away, and we got it done."
Barnstable (10-3) wasn't nearly as challenged in its previous meeting with New Bedford, cruising to an 8-0 win on April 5. But the Whalers (10-4) have improved ten-fold since then and came into Monday's match-up having won six of their last seven games.
New Bedford seemed intent on getting revenge and continuing its red-hot streak right from the start. Speedster Jon Finnerty connected to deep left and pulled in for a sliding triple, followed by Rapoza's 370-foot blast to left-center that gave the Whalers a 2-0 first-inning lead.
The Red Raiders cut the deficit in half when Luke Besse (2-for-3) singled in the home half of the first, moved over two bases on a botched pick-off and scored on a wild pitch. The Whalers got the run back in the third when Rapoza doubled to left and scored on Ricky Moraes' single to the same field.
Barnstable closed the gap to 3-2 in the fifth thanks to Dennis Beynor's sacrifice fly that plated Everett Walsh, giving the hosts a little hope.
In the seventh, Walsh ignited the Red Raiders' rally, drawing a one-out walk. Sam Holway then smacked a double to left, setting the stage for Biliouris.
After working the count to 2-1, Biliouris connected on a hanging curveball that skipped over second base, just past the diving glove of shortstop Chandler Debrosse for the game-winner, the first of his career.
"I've been called on to pinch hit for two years now, so I know you've got stay focused, keep it simple and try to rip it up the middle just like I did," said Biliouris. "We were on him [Rapoza] all day, it was only a matter of time until we got to him."
Barnstable wouldn't have been in a position to come back if not for Bent, who settled down after a shaky start. He struck out the side in the fifth before working a 1-2-3 inning in the sixth and seventh.
"When Rapoza hit the home run I just said 'whatever, I can't change it,' so I've got do what I can to help my team win," said Bent. "As a a pitcher, you've got to have a short memory."
Taking the advice of his coach to "stop throwing fastball over the plate," Bent used his curveball on "85 percent" of his pitches over the final few innings. "I was able to hit the outside corner with it and it that was huge," said Bent.
DeMartino was particularly proud of his playoff-bound club responded with its back against the wall.
"At the beginning of the season we really struggled to keep our focus throughout every inning," he said, "but we're coming into our own as a team now and are learning how to finish games."