NEWTON, Mass. – Winning a battle at the plate doesn’t necessarily require strong contact with the baseball.
Newton North (9-2) and Norwood played an absolutely thrilling contest that featured a combined 13 runs on just 14 hits, as batters grinded their way to 12 walks, and wore eight pitches to earn a free trip to first base.
In the end, Tigers leadoff man Eric Mah drew the biggest base on balls of the contest, as he forced in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth inning. Newton North needed three different relief pitchers to hang on to a 7-6 lead in the top of the seventh, but managed to emerge with an impressive comeback victory.
“We showed resiliency,” said Tigers head coach Joe Siciliano. “We could’ve quit several times, but we didn’t, and we bounced back from mistakes that we don’t usually make, which I think was the difference in the game.”
The visiting Mustangs (6-4) manufactured a run in each of the first four innings. They sacrificed, capitalized on throwing errors, and took a 4-3 lead on an emphatic triple to deep right field off the bat of Jake O’Rourke (2-for-2, 2 BB, R, RBI).
Newton North (9-2) scored in the bottom of the fifth inning to tie the game at 4, but coughed up two more runs in the top of the sixth.
Down 6-4 to begin their half of the sixth, the Tigers dugout was elated to see their senior captain Ben Porter (3 BB, HBP) reach base after getting hit by a pitch. Mike Barbieri drew a walk, and Theo Resnick also wore a fastball to load the bases, before Phil Barnett blooped a single into shallow right field to make it a one-run game.
After Barbieri scored on a fielding error, Eric Mah came to the plate in a tie game with the bases loaded after striking out in the same situation in the fifth inning. But the junior shortstop battled to draw a walk, and put his team back in the lead.
“Champions don’t go down easy,” Norwood head coach Kevin Igoe said about last year’s Super 8 champions. “We knew they were going to swing back, and we matched every time they swung, so I’m pretty proud of the kids, but we didn’t execute with the lead like we needed to.”
Siciliano recognized, “Norwood is a great baseball community, and that is a very well coached, hard-nosed team,” while maintaining that he was also very proud of the way players such as Mah bounced back from previous failures.
“This team is full of experienced hitters. We’re learning from our at-bats, and we’re getting better as the game progresses.”
Of course, the Mustangs still had one last shot after the Tigers took the lead, and Siciliano had a quick hook for Christian Cox after his relief pitcher plunked Norwood designated hitter Daniel Sullivan to start the seventh.
In came sophomore Michael Banks, who utilized an impressive curveball to retire two batters, but Sullivan advanced to third base in the process. With two outs and the tying run 90 feet from scoring, Siciliano went to left-hander Spencer Anderson, and the senior came through with a four-pitch strikeout to seal the win.
“We knew Banks could throw strikes and has nerves of steal, and then [Anderson] is very hard to hit the first time you see him, so we wanted to give them a different look. It worked out well for us,” said Siciliano.
Despite the fact that the Mustangs have now lost three straight, this contest proved that Norwood belongs in the conversation with the best teams in the state.
While the defending champions narrowly dodged a bullet with respect to their chances to qualify for this year’s Super 8 tournament, the Tigers did it by approaching each battle with poise and fervor, and that bodes well for their chances in the postseason.
Newton North 7, Norwood 6
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 R H E
NW 1 1 1 1 0 2 0 6 8 2
NN 0 0 3 0 1 3 - 7 6 2