RYAN BAKER (center) and the NRHS baseball team won two state tourney games over the past week to make it to the Div. 3 Sweet 16 against Dighton-Rehoboth on Thursday. Baker recently signed his National Letter of Intent to the Springfield College baseball team surrounded by family, friends, teammates, teachers and coaches at NRHS. (Courtesy Photo)

Will meet Dighton-Rehoboth on road Thursday at 4 p.m.

By DAN ZIMMERMAN

UPTON — In last year’s baseball postseason, the North Reading Hornets won a stunner over top-seeded Austin Prep in the quarterfinals, only to fall hard to Stoneham in the semis. A year later, the route taken has been somewhat different, but after a pair of wins, the Hornets have returned to what is known today as the Round of 16.

On Monday afternoon, less than 48 hours after handily dispatching Greater Lowell at Carey Park, 14-0, North Reading traveled to face the No. 6-seed Nipmuc Warriors and came away with a come-from-behind, upset win in extra innings, 5-2.

On Thursday, No. 27-seed North Reading will delve deeper into the MIAA Division 3 bracket with a trip to take on No. 11 Dighton-Rehoboth, which defeated Bishop Fenwick to advance.

With the rapid-fire nature of the tournament schedule, there’s little time to take pleasure in a hard-fought win. But some celebration is warranted.

“That was an incredible game,” said North Reading coach Eric Archambault, who improved to 13-9 overall with the two tournament wins. “Time and again, the more pressure this team is facing, the more their confidence builds. To be able to come back from a deficit and score four runs in the eighth is a testament to how confident they are when the situations are the toughest.”

North Reading started the tournament run on Saturday with a bloated 14-0 defeat of Greater Lowell. This preliminary round was, more or less, won in the first inning. Hornet starter Timothy McCarthy retired the side with just six pitches. Ryan Baker provided all the run support the Hornets would need, driving in Matt Ryan and Alex Carucci with a triple to deep right. Ryan McCullough’s RBI-bunt single made it 3-0.

North Reading added a run in the fourth, four in the fifth, and a half-dozen in the sixth. Despite the offense, however, Archambault agreed that this game was won with top-notch pitching from McCarthy, who went the distance.

“Timmy has the exact mentality you want to start a tournament run,” said the coach. “You know exactly what you’re going to get every time he steps on the mound. He has been that way since he joined us four years ago. It’s comforting to see number 9 out there.”

Archambault agreed that while the pitching was stellar, the fielding was also lights-out.

“This was, by far, our best defensive game of the year,” he said. “For example, Matt Ryan was able to cut down a runner from center and McCullough has been working hard on his angles and was turning the opposition’s triples into doubles and doubles into singles.”

“I’ve been struggling all year,” said McCullough. “I was injured for the first half and I’m just coming back and getting my timing down on my swing and my arm is getting better. It’s a process that you have to put your trust into and I’m proud of myself for succeeding and I’m thankful for my teammates who encouraged me along the way.”

 

THE HORNETS will look to bring some Doubleday Field magic with them to Dighton-Rehoboth on Thursday at 4 p.m. for a Round of 16 game in the D3 state tournament. (File Photo)

 

Recently, Alex Carucci received a Cape Ann League All-League Team award. With the season on the line in Upton against Nipmuc, he proved that he was deserving of the tribute. With the Hornets trailing 1-0 heading into the seventh inning, Carucci came to the rescue with a leadoff basehit that ignited his teammates.

“As he’s done all year, Carucci came up with the big hit,” said Archambault. “He drove it hard to left and the fielder misplayed it so he was able to reach second base. We pinch-hit Justin Bailey and he bunted to move Carucci to third. He soon tied the game on a wild pitch.”

North Reading pitcher Ryan Baker, who will continue his baseball pursuits with the Springfield College Pride next year, kept the Nipmuc bats at bay, preserving the 1-1 stalemate into extra frames. The Hornets would only need one inning, however, to finish off the Warriors. Nick Doucette drilled a one-out basehit to start them. Nipmuc got the second out on a fly ball but as the North Reading faithful have seen all season, this team does its best work with two-outs.

Craig Rubino was hit by a pitch, moving pinch-runner Max Forristall into scoring position. Enter, Carucci. On a 0-2 count, he laced a basehit that brought the speedy Forristall home. Behind for the first time, Nipmuc came unglued, allowing three more runs, including Baker’s two-run basehit.

“In addition to providing the key hits, catcher Carucci was also two-for-two throwing out runners who tried to steal,” said Archambault, who was also pleased to see Matt Ryan and Ryan Baker earn 2nd-team All-Star recognition. “Alex is the ultimate clutch player, in all the sports he participates in throughout the year.”

“It was a dogfight the whole way,” said Carucci. “We had to bear down on defense. We got to the top of the seventh and I was leading off. I heard the dugout telling me to have fun, do what I do. I had all the confidence in the world and fortunately I got it done. I can’t show Justin Bailey enough love for coming off the bench and bunting me over to third. We do have a lot of momentum going into the next game but we have a mindset not to get too high, or too low.”

North Reading will travel to face No. 11 Dighton-Rehoboth on Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m. The winner will play the winner of No. 30 Pittsfield vs. No. 14 Arlington Catholic in the state quarterfinals.