Newburyport wins first sectional title in 15 years

LOWELL, Mass. -- Bill Pettingell has been at the helm of Newburyport High School baseball for 40 years, with over 600 wins, but has never won a state championship. Could this year, his last as coach, finally be the one?

That remains to be seen, but his team took one step closer Saturday with a 3-1 victory over St. Mary’s in the Division 3 North Finals.

“Knowing this is Coach Pettingell’s last year and all the tough games that he’s lost over the years, it feels great to get him this win,” said Brett Fontaine, who pitched a complete game for the Clippers.

All his team needed was a three-run fourth inning to get the victory. It was the first time since 1996 that Newburyport (21-5) has won a sectional title.

“Maybe it’s destiny (that we win State),” said Pettingell. “I know the South is loaded with some good teams. We take nothing for granted. I’m taking it one at a time. This is our fourth North title and we were a whisker away from winning the State title twice. Maybe this is the year, I don’t know.”

Prior to the fourth, Matt Turmenne had three consecutive 1-2-3 innings to retire the Newburyport lineup. After walking Colby Morris and giving up a single to Ryan O’Connor, Fontaine singled home both for the first runs of the game. After stealing second, O’Connor scored when Zach Conti, the shortstop, overthrew first base on a routine ground ball.

Newburyport moves on to face the winner of the Middleborough-Apponequet D3 South final, which had to be rescheduled from Saturday due to rain. St. Mary’s (16-8) has not won a sectional championship since 1988.

Fontaine never had an inning when he faced more than four hitters until the sixth, which was coincidentally the only inning he gave up a run. While he was able to have economic innings, he was not overpowering on the mound. He notched only three strikeouts over seven innings, but was able to use his defense to get the outs he needed. Ten of the necessary twenty-one outs were ground ball outs.

“I’m not a strikeout guy, I’m going to focus on my defense,” he said. “Them making plays just makes the game go by much easier.

Fontaine is usually the team’s shortstop. He is 10-1 on the season as a pitcher and coming into the game, had an 0.83 ERA coming into the game.

“We had two really great starting pitchers going today,” said Pettingell. “We played great defense, especially in the infield. The most improved part of our game is in the outfield. We made a lot of great catches out there today, in the tournament, and coming down the stretch.”

“They were everything we expected and I assume we were everything they expected. We’re very similar teams, we’re both good teams and both deserved to be here.”