LYNN, Mass. -- It only took 40 years, but Newburyport baseball coach Bill Pettingell finally won a state championship.
Poetically, it came on the final day of his coaching career.
His team beat Pioneer Valley Regional 9-4 Saturday at Fraser Field to take home the Division 3 Championship and end his 616-win career.
“I’ve lived the dream for 40 years, when I came to Newburyport to start doing this with baseball,” he said. “Our kids are throw-backs to 15-20 years ago that every kid wants to be on this team, even the kids that didn’t start. It was one of the more inexperienced teams I had coming into the season, but you knew that we had kids that wanted to be there. We were 5-4 at one time during the season, and now we’re 23-5, that says something about these kids.”
Things did not come easy for the Clippers Saturday, regardless of what the score said. In the top of the first, Casey Blanchard singled off Brett Fontaine, and moved up to second after a balk. With a Kyle Platner single and a fielding error charged to first baseman Ryan O’Connor, Newburyport was trailing after the first inning.
They stormed back however, with two runs in the bottom of the second with two hits, including a 2 RBI single to center by Dave Cusack. It added five more runs over the next two innings, forcing Pioneer coach Thomas Conway to take Platner off the mound after 4.1 innings.
Having a five run lead was extremely beneficial to Fontaine, who admittedly did not have his best performance of the season. The junior righthander was called for two balks and had a three wild pitches Saturday.
“I didn’t have my best stuff today,” said Fontaine, who finished the season 11-1 with the victory. “I just battled through it and tried to let my defense make a lot of plays.”
Pioneer (18-8) came back and added two runs in the top of the fifth to make it 7-4 with two innings to go. In the sixth, Fontaine walked two of the first three batters and surrendered a single to Nick Peduzzi, loading the bases. The three-run lead appeared to be in jeopardy, but Fontaine struck out Jordan Stempel and got Blanchard to fly to left to get out of the jam.
Feeling the lead was not safe, the Clippers added two more runs in the bottom of the sixth, bringing the lead back up to five. All Fontaine needed was three more outs and the championship was Newburyport’s.
“We came into the season knowing this was Coach’s last season and we know he’s won the Cape Ann League, the sectional tournaments, and we all wanted to win today,” said Fontaine. “This state tournament has to mean the world, it’s his first one. I know he loves it.”
Fontaine ended the game throwing seven innings, giving up nine hits, two walks, and six strikeouts.
Pettingell admitted after the game that if things did not go his way Saturday, he still would have considered his career a success.
“If this is the first day of practice and you say, ‘Cape Ann League or state title? One or the other?’ I’d take the Cape Ann League title,” he said. “That’s the way I have always been and I always thought the tournament as a great reward for a season. That’s just the way I am, I’m a league person.
“People keep saying, ‘You’re crazy, why would you say that?’ because that’s me. Most people wouldn’t say that, most people don’t believe that, but I sincerely, honest to God believe the Cape Ann League title is what we start the season to win, and anything else that happens is gravy.”
He continued, “To win the state championship, it was like scripted. These kids, I don’t know if they played a little extra hard this year and more emotionally because they knew I was retiring. I don’t know if that had anything to do with the finality of this but all I know is I’ve had some great teams but nobody played as well under fire over six straight (tournament) games.”
Whether it played harder for Pettingell this season or not, they sent him off the way any coach would like to go.