LOWELL, Mass. -- After hours of start time uncertainty and an eventual postponement the day before, and another hour rain delay the next day, Lowell is headed to Saturday’s Division 1 North Sectional Finals.
The Red Raiders beat Malden 5-1 at Alumni Field Friday, leaving only Newton North separating it from a sectional championship.
Lowell got strong pitching performances from R.J. Noel (5.1 innings pitched, 1 earned run, 3 hits, 3 strikeouts, 2 walks) and Nick Godfroy (3.2 innings pitched, 4 hits, 4 strikeouts, 2 walks).
With the team playing on back-to-back days, Lowell (20-4) coach Dan Graham was able to conserve most of the arms for Saturday, and any potential games next week.
“I take nothing for granted, but I knew coming into the game that R.J. was rested, Godfroy was rested, Chad (Gens) was rested, and if need be, I could use Matty (Tulley) too,” said Graham. “There’s no sense in holding anyone back today and planning ahead for tomorrow because if you don’t win today, there is no tomorrow. Coming in with the arms, we felt good with where we were at.”
The effort was aided in the second inning when Tulley, who was dropped into the No. 5 spot in the lineup, hit a bomb over the left field wall for the first run of the game.
Two batters later, Andrew Marasa hit a ball to right field that Malden’s Nick Powers misplayed, which turned Marasa’s single into a three-base hit. Roger Roman plated him with the third hit of the inning.
Lowell added another in the third when a Chad Gens sacrifice fly allowed Noel to cross the plate.
“We really wanted it,” he said. “We were upset that we really didn’t score as many runs as we should, but we definitely came ready to hit, play defense, and all that.”
Gens helped out again in the fifth when he crushed a 1-0 pitch from Malden (17-6) pitcher Brad Applin off the centerfield wall for a double. He scored two batters later on a Joe Parisi single to make the game 4-0.
Malden got on the board in the sixth inning when the heart of the batting order hit four straight singles, which knocked in Austin Teal.
On to LeLaucher: Lowell will play Newton North Saturday, the No. 22 seed that not many people, if any at all, expected to be playing in the sectional finals. In contrast, it will be playing a Lowell team that many prognosticators had pegged for a postseason run before the season even started.
North did not get there by blind luck, however. With postseason victories over Lexington, Billerica, St. John’s Prep, and Acton-Boxborough, it defeated four of the top 11 seeds in the tournament to get to where it is now. If it is able to defeat Lowell Saturday, it will add to that list.
Gens and the rest of the Red Raiders are confident they can keep this run going beyond Saturday.
“There’s always a sense of urgency when you’re playing in the North finals,” he said. “We can beat them. We beat A-B, we beat all the teams they played, so we can do it.”
Flawless on the mound -- and field: Lowell’s pitching and defense has been as good as it could ask for over the past three games. It has now given up one run in 27 innings. While there were times in the later innings when Godfroy got behind in counts and seemed to struggle with his command, Graham stuck with him and the senior rewarded him by pitching out of trouble.
Instead of having a quick trigger and burning through pitchers, Graham left himself the opportunity to use his ace (Tulley) on six days rest Saturday, with other fresh arms (Gens, Cam Latta, etc.) to use if necessary.
“It worked out today,” said Graham. “We only had one pitching change today. It took Nick a minute or two to get settled in once he got out there, but once he did he started doing his thing, changing speeds and throwing strikes. He was our No. 2 starter most of the year.
“I like our team, I think we’ve got talent,” he added. “I’m very happy these kids are going in there and playing to their ability, not getting nervous, and executing. It makes my job a little bit easier.”
No more delays: Saturday’s games will mark the end of an unorthodox two-week stretch for most of the teams in the state playoffs. A week of inclement weather and end of the school year activities has brought about many scheduling conflicts for the remaining teams in the state playoffs, and Lowell is no exception.
“Those kids had their prom two weeks ago on Tuesday,” said Graham. “It’s been tough from the time the prom rolled around, through graduation this last Wednesday, and in preparation for the state tournament.”
“Monday (May 28) we won the league. Tuesday (May 29) these kids had the prom, they had the day off. Wednesday, I didn’t bring them back until late at night. Then the tournament’s starting. We know we have a bye, we’re waiting until Saturday to play. We got rained out on Saturday and ended up playing on Sunday.
“We win that game 1-0 (against Westford), then we’re supposed to come back on Monday, and we end up getting rained out so we have a day to actually go indoors and get some work in and talk to the kids and work on some offensive stuff. We did a better job when we came back out on Tuesday (against Malden Catholic). We got a dynamite pitching performance from Cam Latta. Then these kids graduated on Wednesday (June 6) so we got a quick day of work. We were supposed to play yesterday, so we got out here and did most of our pregame out here on the field. We were waiting to take the bus to Fraser Field to play a game, it got rained out there, then we had to come back and get ready to go today."
Graham continued, “The good part about today was the kids got out of school early so, with a 4 p.m. game, we were able to get out here early, take a full pregame, and make sure we were ready to play. So it was a little bit more routine, which was nice, with not as many distractions, which is nice. I think the focus was where it needs to be.”
The scheduling was more of an inconvenience to the players, but not anything that couldn’t be worked around.
“It’s a pain,” said Gens. “We were ready to play yesterday, but I guess it was kind of good that it rained yesterday since we played well today. We got extra swings in in practice and we hit good today.”