LOWELL, Mass. -- It was over in an instant.
With one out in the bottom of the eighth of the Division 3 Eastern Mass final, North Reading pitcher Scott Allan stared down Bellingham’s Michael Ryan as he took a lead off third base.
Ryan had doubled to left to lead off the inning and was bunted over to third by Sean Postler. With a 1-1 count to Kyle Goulet, Allan lifted his left leg to begin his delivery. As Ryan took another step down the third base line, Allan put his foot down in the dirt and threw over to third.
Immediately, the third base umpire halted the play, threw up his hands and declared Allan had balked and Ryan was awarded home. The umpire ruled Allan made a motion towards home plate with his motion, thus making the pickoff to third illegal. Bellingham won the D3 EMass final 2-1 in extra innings.
The North Reading infield dropped into a crouch, processing and not wanting to believe what just happened. In the blink of an eye it went from fighting to get out of a one-out jam to its season being over.
Feeling the weight of the loss on his shoulders, Allan had to be consoled by teammates as they walked off the field. For seven innings, he and Bellingham’s David Sampson were locked in a 1-1 pitchers duel.
Before breaking the tie in the bottom of the inning, the Southern New Hampshire commit faced a sticky situation of his own.
He walked Shane Driscoll to to begin the inning and then Keith Linnane singled to right to put runners on first and second with no outs. Colby Maiola intended to sacrifice bunt the runners over but beat out the throw to first to load the bases with no outs.
After a nine-pitch at-bat, Sampson got Ryan Sanborn to line out to third. Then in the course of his at-bad against Allan, Ryan, the catcher, caught pinch runner Angelo DiSanto too far off third and picked him off for out No. 2. Allan grounded to third to end the threat.
“I knew I had to do what I had to do, just try to fight through it,” said Sampson. “I knew my fastball wasn’t there, it wasn’t as fast as it usually is. But I knew my team would back me up, and they did.”
He was approaching 100 pitches entering the eighth, but Bellingham coach T.J. Chiappone stuck with his senior starter, even with the bases loaded and the game in the balance.
“I went out to David and said, ‘Listen, you’re a strikeout pitcher, and you’re one strikeout away from maybe turning a double play and we’re out of this inning',” he said. “Obviously we didn’t draw it up like that, but he just battled and battled. He’s a tough kid. That’s his 10th win of the year. It’s just a really good win.”
North Reading got on the board first in the second inning. Maiola’s double one-hopped the left field wall and Sanborn walked. Allan bunted both runners over a base and Maiola scored on Scot Leslie’s single to left.
Sampson issued a four-pitch walk to load the bases again, but came back with back-to-back strikeouts to keep the damage at a minimum.
He threw 119 pitches over 8 innings, giving up 7 hits with 7 strikeouts, 4 walks, and only one run.
“My pitcher didn’t have his best stuff today,” said Chiappone. “Usually he’s 87 (miles per hour), but I was really impressed that he just battled and battled. I told him in the third inning it’s obvious you don’t have your best stuff, but good pitchers win with average stuff. He just gritted it out. You have some luck in there too.”
The Blackhawks will play the winner of tomorrow's Central/West final between Northbridge and Monument Mountain, Saturday for the Division 3 State Championship at Fitton Field in Worcester.