O'Connor hurls Newburyport into D3 state final

LYNN, Mass. -- The swan song for Bill Pettingell continues.

His Division 3 North champion Newburyport knocked out Apponequet with a 4-1, win in the Div. 3 state semifinals on Wednesday night at Fraser Field.

Pettingell has seen a lot of lefty pitchers come through his program in his 40 years as head coach of the Clippers, but there might not be any better than the way Ryan O’Connor has pitched this season. With his 13 strikeouts in a three-hit, complete-game victory, O’Connor set a single season school record for Newburyport (22-5) with 122 K’s this season.

“He set a single season for a Newburyport player, so I guess we haven’t had someone in that category then,” Pettingell said with a chuckle when he was asked of O’Connor’s place among Clippers left-handed starters.

Newburyport will look to send off Pettingell with his first state title on Saturday in Lynn, when the Clippers face Pioneer for the state title.

O’Connor was strong in the opening innings with a mixture of his two potent breaking balls. The lefty throws a slider and curveball, and through the first two innings he fanned five out of six Lakers (16-5) with a mixture of both.

The Clippers starter did strike out the side in the top of the third, but his three walks and a RBI single from Nick Cogliano tied the game at 1, after the Clippers’ Dave Cusack scored on a wild pitch in the home half of the first.

O’Connor got into a bases loaded jam in that third inning after the tying single, but he got Dan Depippo looking to get out of the jam.

“I threw a lot of balls in the beginning of the at-bats too, so I put more pressure on myself,” said O’Connor.

Brett Fontaine helped relieve some of that pressure in another bases loaded jam in the top of the fifth. Fontaine collected a hard-hit ground ball by Depippo on a hop and he fired over to first to strand three.

“I wasn’t too good today at some points, but I got it over when I needed to and the guys behind me picked me up,” said O’Connor.

O’Connor hit a one-out single in the bottom of the fifth to chase Lakers’ starter Josh Fickert (4.1 IP, two earned runs, four walks, three strikeouts). Matt Mottola legged out an infield single to set up first and second with one down against the Lakers' reliever.

Jim Conway hit a grounder to the hole in short and the shortstop's throw could not be handled by the first baseman, allowing O’Connor to come home for the go-ahead run. Drew Carter hit an opposite field single over the outstretched arm of the first baseman to plate Mottola, but Conway was thrown out at home trying to score.

“We scrounge for runs,” said Pettingell. “We find a way to move runners along. We do a lot of hit and runs that people don’t notice, and then we get a few dinkers in there. We got some nice clutch hits.”

The Clippers got one more in their last ups when Ryan Clark scored on a wild pitch.