Pitcher's Perspective: Braintree vs. St. John's Prep

BROCKTON, Mass. -– In the opening round of the Super 8 Division 1A baseball tournament, poor control resulted in an outing that Braintree pitcher Bobby McNiff wanted to forget.

“Last game versus Silver Lake, I don’t know if I threw a first pitch strike to anybody,” said McNiff of his performance that resulted in an 8-3 loss for the Wamps.

McNiff reversed course about as well as possible as he pitched fifth seeded Braintree past third seeded St. Johns Prep at Campanelli Stadium on Monday afternoon. The junior righty went right after hitters, starting off 26 of the 27 he faced with first pitch strikes.

“Going back to the game against Silver Lake where he didn’t pitch very well and that was the biggest problem, he didn’t get ahead in too many counts,” said Braintree coach Bill O’Connell. “He made a great adjustment.”

Added McNiff: “This game I was really just focused on that. Once you get ahead, you kind of have the hitter at your mercy because you can throw him anything. If you’re down in the count, you gotta throw him fastballs.”

The adjustment resulted 6-2/3 innings off effective mound work, scattering eight eights while allowing three earned runs. He struck out five and surrendered just one walk – and it came on the lone hitter he started off with a ball.

“Against Silver Lake, that really wasn’t him,” said senior Matt Bickford, who picked up the save in relief. “He just didn’t have his best stuff that day but he had a great redemption game.”

Bickford welcomes familiar role: Senior Matt Bickford, who O’Connell called the workhorse of the Braintree staff, relieved McNiff and delivered 2 and 2/3 innings of impressive relief to record the save.

“I’ve mostly started this year, but last year and the year before I came out of the bullpen, and I kind of like it a little bit more. It’s less pressure," he said.

Bickford appeared free of any pressure as he struck out two, surrendered no hits or walks and allowed one unearned run to ensure the Wamps would stay alive in the Super 8 tourney.

“The starter has to face guys again and again, but coming out of the pen no one has seen you. As the game goes on, the starter loses a little bit so a fresh arm can look a lot faster.”

Roberts goes out well: Evan Roberts tossed a complete game for St. John’s Prep, once again flashing efficiency rarely seen in a high school pitcher. He threw 98 pitches in his final outing for the Eagles, 70 of which were thrown for strikes.

Like much of an impressive senior campaign that led to Roberts being tabbed the Catholic Conference MVP, the southpaw somehow kept his pitch counts down even when Braintree rallied against him.

That was never more on display than in the third inning. He surrendered two runs in the frame, but threw just 10 pitches before getting back into the dugout.

That type of efficiency is why Robert has been able to throw a complete game in every one of his 10 starts this year. Roberts’ ability to pound the strike zone has kept his walk total to a minimum, and after two walks on Monday (one intentional), his season concluded with just 12 free passes in more than 70 innings.

“Even when he goes to a 3-0 count, you kind of say ‘what’s up? What’s wrong with him?’” said Prep coach Dan Letarte. “He’s not too proud. He really relies on the defense. He feels if he can get the ball on the ground, we’ll make the plays and if he gets the ball in the air we’re catch it.

"You don’t see that a lot with kids that have six, seven, eight wins in a season. They usually just want to strike everyone out. They’re throwers, but I’d really categorize him as a pitcher.”