DANVERS, Mass. -- There have been more interesting ways to open the high school baseball season. But not too many.
This afternoon's contest between host St. John's Prep and rival Peabody started out as a grind-it-out pitcher's duel, but things got untracked in the ninth inning. Peabody went up 4-1 to start then top of the inning, before the Eagles came back in the next stanza to tie it, thanks to several errors in the field, and eventually win in walk-off fashion in the 10th on a walk, taking the contest 5-4 in the season-opener for both squads.
"Yeah, kind of a crazy game," Prep head coach Pat Yanchus said. "I thought the pitching was good for the most part."
Peabody head coach Mark Bettencourt was a little more blunt -- "It was a bizarre game," he said.
"You know what it was?" he continued. "Strange things happen in the first game of the year. We're not going to say we didn't play well, because I thought we did play well. I thought when things got tight, we had a little bit of trouble. But so did they."
The Tanners took a 4-1 lead in the top of ninth, loading the bases up without a hit. Cleanup hitter George Tsnosis worked a walk from righthander Mike Driscoll to make it 2-1, followed by a fielding error and a beaning of Stephen Girolamo to make it a three-run lead.
But the trouble for Peabody started in the bottom half of the inning, with two outs. Prep's Brandon Bingel swung at a low third strike, which was misplayed by the catcher and allowed him to reach first on the passed ball. Next up was pinch-hitter David Bornstein, who reached first base safely thanks to an off-the-mark throw from the shortstop.
A single from freshman Keith Leavitt plated Bingel, and a passed ball in the next at bat allowed Bornstein to come home. Tyler Noe then reached first on another error from the shortstop, plating Leavitt and tying the game at 4.
In the bottom of the 10th, junior Nick Bragole worked to a 3-0 count, then fell back to 3-2, before finally drawing a ball low in the zone to plate Anthony Capuano for the winning run.
Starters go to work: Peabody's workhorse junior righty Pat Ruotolo got the no-decision, after striking out 10 in nine innings on 133 pitches, after some unfortunate errors in his final frame. But for most of the afternoon, he and Prep senior righty Rob DiFranco stole the show, battling
Ruotolo's fastball sat in the 83 to 85 range for most of the afternoon. But as the game went on, his 12-to-6 curve had a more defined drop to it, especially in the latter innings. Six of his 10 strikeouts came after the fifth inning; a big part of that was the curve, as well as the high heat he was able to dabble in there.
"When you're facing Patrick, you're going to show us you can hit his fastball before we start doing anything," Bettencourt said. "So we usually try to hold his breaking ball through the first round of the order if we can. I thought he did very well with that today. He established his fastball early, wasn't getting a ton of punch-outs, but a lot of times they were guessing. You saw a lot of pop-ups, fly-outs, to keep them off-balance.
"That's a good-hitting team. Towards the end, he started getting that adrenaline, and that's when that breaking ball starts coming into play."
In the top halves of the innings, DiFranco battled with the Tanner hitters, getting behind in the count but usually not out, striking out six while allowing just three hits and a walk.
"He wasn't getting the first strike over, but he was making them swing and miss," Yanchus said. "When he's down low, his ball sinks a lot, and they were swinging over the ball a lot."