PEABODY, Mass. –- Beverly’s defense was air-tight for 6 and 2/3 innings, but the Panthers couldn’t advance the game to extra innings, making two consecutive errors in the bottom of the seventh inning to give Peabody the 1-0 win.
Pat Ruotolo pitched a gem for Peabody, throwing all seven innings in his first start of the year, he struck out 10 Beverly batters and gave up just four hits. He was at his best in crunch time, putting up consecutive three up, three down innings in the sixth and seventh. Coming into the game, it wasn’t coach Mark Bettencourt’s gameplan to give the UConn-bound righty the start on the mount.
Andrew McLaughlin was supposed to start on the mound for Peabody, saving Ruotolo for Lynn English on Friday, but McLaughlin was very sick for the majority of the day -- something that Bettencourt found out as he got to the field.
“Andrew is a gamer, so if he says he can’t pitch, then he can’t pitch--he was feeling pretty sick. Although, having Pat as a fill-in isn’t bad either,” Bettencourt said with a laugh about starting his ace instead.
Ruotolo struggled to command his breaking ball early in the game, something his coach attributed to the jitters of his first start.
“Pat’s gonna be Pat," Bettencourt said. "Early in this game, he was a little hesitant about his curve ball. But I think around the third inning you started to see him pick it up a notch, he started to get a little more confidence, you started to see the ball jump out of his hand a little bit more. He got stronger when that game went on."
He finished the complete game victory in 98 pitches.
“And he could have gone another inning or two,” claimed his coach.
Beverly got a fantastic performance from their starting pitcher as well. Eric Messina was constantly getting his team out of jams, pitching all seven innings and making a living off of getting Peabody’s batters to hit ground balls. For almost the entire game, his infield behind him was rock solid—turning double plays and getting to tough ground balls.
But the defense couldn’t hold on in the end.
With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, George Tsonis ripped a grounder that went under the glove of the shortstop, and Bettencourt immediately put in speedster C.J. Alimonti to pinch run for Tsonis at second base.
On the next play, Matt McIsaac (2-for-2, two stolen bases) hit a grounder to third base, and Alimonti came around to score on a throwing error to win the game.
“It’s funny, every time we play each other it comes down to who makes the first mistake," Bettencourt said. "Both teams, for 6 and 2/3 innings, played solid baseball. They made some great plays, their kid battled and got out of situations...luckily for us, that’s a pressure groundball right there."
The coach went back to his ace pitcher when talking about the difference in the game. Beverly second baseman Cam Rogers went 2-for-3 with two stolen bases of his own, but outside of Rogers, Ruotolo had the Panthers’ number for the vast majority of the game.
“I don’t care who you are, when you have your first start of the year you’re going to be a little jittery -— I don’t care if it’s Pat Ruotolo or a freshman,” Bettencourt said. “I think he got the jitters out in those first couple innings. [Late in the game] he was attacking people, he has the confidence to do it.”