PLYMOUTH, Mass. -- While it is still too far for the Atlantic Coast League title to be decided, a huge leap toward the crown was in the grasps for both Nauset and Plymouth North.
When the smoke settled between the two ACL heavyweights, both teams stood standing with a victory. But the way those victories were achieved couldn’t be more different.
The Eagles got the victory in the front end of the double-header, exploding for seven runs in the bottom of the sixth, only to see the Warriors counter with four runs in the top of the seventh. In the bottom of the seventh, Plymouth North got the last laugh when Colby Randall scored while the Warriors were throwing the ball around the diamond capturing a 10-9 victory.
In the game that followed, Nauset rode the pitching of freshman Chris Holcomb to a 7-4 win to split the afternoon.
“It was a just a weird day,” Plymouth North skipper Dwayne Follette said. ”It started with the weird call in the first game and we drop a pop up and don’t make plays. It was just a bizarre afternoon, but two good teams battled and we ended up with a split.”
The tone for the remainder of the bizarre day was set in the first inning when Nauset’s Gerritt Merrill raked a triple to deep left that one hopped the wall, but he was gunned out at the plate trying to stretch it into a home run to end the inning. Nauset took the field for the bottom half of the inning and pitcher Paul Prue had already gotten off a handful of warm-up pitches when the umpire came in to rule the play a ground rule double. The Warriors went on to score two runs in the inning.
Nauset certainly played well enough for both wins, but one offensive outburst from the Eagles was the difference.
Trailing 5-3 heading into the last of the sixth, the Eagles sent 11 batters to the plate, scoring seven of them. Cam Drew plated the tying run with a walk, followed by a two-run single from Colin Nicklas. Cory Caraher and Brian Christian each plated runs in the following at bats, at the Eagles were heading into the seventh with a comfortable seven run lead.
With the Wariors down to their last out and one runner on base, Eagles pitcher Kyle Mann struggled to find the plate, issuing four straight walks followed up with an error on Drew, the Warriors found themselves trailing by one run and a runner on third.
Enter Noah Grevelis. Grevelis blasted a single through the right side to tie the game but the Warriors couldn’t capture the lead as Christian came in to record the final out.
“They never quit, this team will fight until the end,” Nauset coach Lou Elia said.
In the bottom of the inning, the Eagles had the bases loaded and one out when Drew drove a fly ball to right field. Antonio Espinosa camped out underneath, and threw a strike home. The good throw forced Randall to retreat to third, but catcher Mason Swift rifled off a throw to second to try to pick off the runner. That’s when Randall made a break for home, beating the tag from Swift for the walk off win.
It was icing on the cake for Randall who finished the game 4-for-4 with a triple, three RBIs and a pair of runs scored.
“We swung the bat all day,” said Follette. “We did that in the first game we just came up with big hits when we needed.”
Finding motivation: When the second game began roughly 30 minutes following the conclusion of the opener, the Warriors looked a bit dazed.
Coming back from a heartbreaking loss was no easy task and attempting to match the same intensity level seemed to be a lofty objective.
But with the possibility of falling behind the Eagles by two games in the standings, the Warriors rallied around their freshman pitcher while getting a big day at the plate from Gerritt Merrill (4-for-4, triple, two doubles, two RBIs).
“I think your always worried about that, but this team is pretty resilient and pretty hungry,” Elia said.
The first pitch of the game was laced to right for a triple by Nicklas as the Eagles jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead. But the Warriors responded on Merrill’s triple in the bottom of the inning, and he came around to score on an error.
Holcomb allowed two more runs in the second, but quickly found his groove allowing just four hits over the next four innings while keeping Plymouth North off the scoreboard.
“I was happy, he did what he had to do, we needed a win and went out and got it,” Elia said. “He started settling down after the second inning and throwing strikes and started ahead of batters and getting out of jams.”
Nauest was handed its runs in the third inning from the Eagles, as a walk and three errors pushed across the go-ahead runs. Nauset added insurance runs in the fifth and sixth on RBIs from Gerritt and Majewski.
Holcomb ran into a bit of trouble in the fourth with the bases loaded and Northeastern-commit Christian at the plate. But Holcomb buckled down and forced Christian to fly out to center to end the threat.
“My slider was really on and I could use that early on,” the freshman pitcher said. “My fastball when I got ahead and when they weren’t expecting it was really key.”
It looked like the Eagles were going to make some more late-inning noise when the first two batters reached base in the seventh, but Nick Lloyd retired the next three batters to convert the save opportunity.
“Shotty base running, were down one and get picked off, you can’t beat a good team like that with those mistakes,” Follette said of his team. “I think we played pretty bad baseball and a lot of errors. That’s a quality team over there, and you need to play better baseball.”
Wide-open race: Saturday’s split leaves the race for the ACL title wide open as both teams now have one loss on the season. As it stands right now, Sandwich owns first place in the league with a 3-0 record.
“It’s wide open, from what I have seen everybody is competitive, everybody is beating somebody you don’t think they’ll beat so you have to bring you’re a game every time or you will be in trouble,” Elia said.
While these two teams won’t meet again this season, the focus now shifts to when these two teams meet up with Sandwich.