D1 Baseball: Lowell 2, Malden Catholic 0

LOWELL, Mass. -- For its second straight Division 1 North tournament game, Lowell kept its opponent off the scoreboard entirely.

With strong defense and a complete game by Cam Latta, Lowell advanced to the tournament semi-finals with a 2-0 victory over Malden Catholic Tuesday.

While Latta was not overpowering hitters (7 strikeouts over 9 innings), he relied on the team behind him to take care of the balls in play. This allowed him to work quickly and efficiently throughout the game, while allowing only four hits and stranding 7 MC runners.

Malden Catholic (14-8) led off the second and third innings with doubles, but each time, Latta was able to work around them and not let the runner advance beyond second base.

“I knew my defense would help me behind me, so I just tried to throw as many strikes as possible and not put too many guys on base,” he said.

Lowell (19-4) got on the board in the second after having runners on the corners with one out. Dylan Dennis, the MC starter, threw to first to check on Roger Roman. The ball ricocheted off the first baseman’s glove and got away from him.

This allowed Andrew Marasa to score from third and for Roman to advance to third.

It’s other run came in the fifth on a bases loaded Chad Gens sacrifice fly.

“What’s encouraging for me is, I still think we have better days ahead, especially from an offensive standpoint,” said Lowell coach Dan Graham. “I think we’re capable of doing a better job, and I think we will.”

MC’s threatened in the third inning when it had runners on first and second with two outs, but Latta was able to induce two flyouts to end any scoring chance MC had.

Sixteen of MC’s 27 outs came on fly balls.

Lowell warmed up three pitchers during the eighth and ninth innings, but they weren’t needed. He struck out Manny Powers looking to end the game and helped his team move on to the semi-finals.

Under the Radar: Latta’s quiet emergence as a reliable starting pitcher gives Lowell more potential arms to throw at teams as the postseason rolls on. While Matt Tulley is the well-publicized ace of the staff, Latta has earned the trust of his coach and his teammates to be put on the mound as the team’s No. 2 starter.

“He’s a kid that, early in the year, pitched in relief, and pitched in relief a lot,” said Graham. “I think like 15 games into the season, the kid had 12 appearances. He was doing so well in relief, we put him into the rotation, then he put three great starts together. Seeing that, with a kid like Matty, I have all the confidence in the world with Cam, against anyone, to give us a shot to win.

“So for him to come out of the bullpen and establish himself in the rotation, to prove everyone right, and to come out and pitch the way he pitched today, is awesome.”

After warming up arms in the late innings, it appeared Graham was waiting for the opportune time to make a move. He decided to ride the wave and keep his starter in, even after he approached -- and eventually went over -- 100 pitches.

“That means a lot to me,” said Latta. “He believes in me and we’re trying to go far in this tournament.”

Latta was assisted by MC’s tendency to jump on pitches early in the count and try to drive them. In 10 of its 15 at-bats between the third and sixth innings, he had to throw at most two pitches to each hitter. That quick work helped keep the fatigue at a minimum, and helped him go farther in the game.

“It was good because they were first-pitch swinging,” he said. “They were getting pop-ups, so they were quick and easy outs.”

No tax on the staff: Because Latta and Matt Tulley combined to pitch 17.1 innings for Lowell over the past two games, the rest of the team’s arms are available for Thursday, when it is expected to play Malden in the Division 1 North Semi-finals.

R.J. Noel, who pitched two-thirds of an inning Sunday against Westford, has been the only non-starter arm Lowell has used in the state tournament so far.

“Eighteen innings of tournament baseball, we haven’t given up a run yet,” said Graham. “We’ve gone to the pen one time, that’s it. Our defense has been great. To see the pitching in the first two games be the way it was, you have some arms rested. You have some other kids you can go to. (Cam) was unbelievable today.”