LOWELL, Mass -- LeLacheur Park was quiet. Almost too quiet. The kind of quiet that comes over a group when everyone knows a secret, but nobody wants to be the one to bring it up.
As Plymouth North and Burlington entered the seventh inning of their Division 2 semifinal game, everyone in the park knew the secret.
One look at the scoreboard was all it took to see the zero in the Burlington hit column. Was Plymouth North really going to head back to the Division 2 state championship game on the back of a no-hitter?
With a two-out single to left in the bottom of the seventh, Burlington catcher Anthony Cruz broke up Alex Rozak’s no-hit bid, but it didn’t matter. His team lost 8-1, sending North back to the title game for a chance to win their second straight, and third in five years, on Saturday.
Rozak spun a gem for North (18-7), with six strikeouts, five walks, and only one earned run over seven innings.
“He was nasty,” said North coach Dwayne Follette. “He didn’t even have the curveball going, but his fastball was very good, with movement. His splitter was nasty. He threw some splitfinger fastballs that just dropped off the table.
“It’s his 24th career win. Third in this playoffs alone. He’s been doing it his whole life for us. He’s awesome. Did I expect it? Yeah. I did. He was on three days rest too.”
He squared off against Joe Moran, who pitched 8 innings in Burlington’s (16-9) North sectional quarterfinal victory over Reading.
Moran struggled from the very beginning. He walked Cody Holmes to start the game, and then Jamie Dougherty bunted him over to second, but because of the lack of coverage on third, Holmes kept running and found himself on third with one out to start the game.
Next, he hit Connor Follette to put runners on the corners. A walk to John Myette loaded the bases, and then a Joe Kingsbury single drove in two runs to give North the early lead.
“We did a great job on that, getting the guy to third,” said Follette. “Then we left him stranded and we worked the counts. That two-out hit broke it open for us. I thought after that, we relaxed and played our game.”
North added four more in the third, which was helped when a Moran pickoff attempt at first hit off Peter Dawe’s glove and rolled down towards the fence, allowing two runs to score.
Kingsbury got his third RBI of the game in the seventh when his triple knocked in Myette for an insurance run.
One with the No-No's: This wasn’t Rozak’s first go-around with a potential no-hitter.
“I pitched a no-hitter last year to start the season,” he said. “Earlier this season, I pitched against Plymouth South and I had a no hitter into the seventh. It was the same situation as here, lost it with two outs. So it’s kind of funny for me, I’m not disappointed at all. We just won the Eastern Mass title, so it’s huge.”
Shhhh... There is a superstition and ritual in baseball when there is a no-hitter in the works: you don’t talk about the no-hitter. The coaches are not supposed to bring up the possibility, while the players are supposed to avoid the pitcher when he is on the bench, at all costs.
As the game was rolling along, did the Plymouth North players comply with that tradition?
“No, they don’t talk to me anyways,” said Rozak with a laugh after the game. “They kind of let me do my own thing. The pitcher kind of sits on the bench the whole time.”
How about the coaches?
“You know what? I was actually gonna take him out, and my coaches had to tell me (about the no-hitter),” said Follette. “That’s pretty good coaching, huh? I really didn’t know. In the fifth inning, I didn’t know. My coaches had to tell me. You know how you’re not supposed to say a no-hitter? Well they didn’t say it, they just pointed to the scoreboard and I figured it out.”
...Or was it really? There was a discrepancy over the official ruling of whether Rozak was carrying a no-hitter into the seventh inning at all. It all stemmed from a play in the fourth inning.
After Rozak walked Peter Dawe to open the inning, Kyle Shields hit a chopper back up the middle that was fielded on a run by David Murphy. Because Murphy’s momentum was carrying him away from the base, he tried to get the quick force out at second by flipping it to Jamie Dougherty, but Dawe beat the throw.
Both runners were safe, and the official scoring of the play was a fielders choice. Some people agreed with the call, while others felt it should have been ruled an infield single, rendering the no-hit bit moot.
“They didn’t score it a hit, and they didn’t score it an error, but it has to be one of the two,” said interim Burlington coach Chris Nance. “It can’t be a nothing, but it was a nothing. If it was fielder’s choice, well that means that Peter Dawe, one of the not so fast runners on my team beat it out. Obviously the ball chopped up enough there to be called an infield hit.”
“Strategically, for me, I think they would’ve pulled (Rozak) after that,” he added. “Then I would’ve had three innings of facing someone else. So I don’t understand it.”
Even Rozak didn’t think he had a no-hitter going.
“I thought the play earlier, I guess that they called a fielder’s choice, I thought that was a hit,” he said. “So I thought the scoreboard was wrong the whole time.”