THE HORNETS celebrate their season-opening victory over Northeast Metro Tech on Tuesday. (Eric Evans Photo)


NORTH READING — In their most recent outing, the North Reading Hornets added a dramatic come-from-behind win to what has been a fast and furious two weeks of baseball to open the 2024 campaign.

On a warm, sun-splashed Tuesday morning, the Pentucket Panthers paid a visit to Carey Park, intent on improving upon their 3-1 record. After two innings, they had established a 7-0 lead and seemed to be well on their way. But the Hornets, with 46-runs to their credit in 5 games, weren’t about to call it a day and mounted an impressive rally that ultimately led to a walk-off 8-7 win.

“This year, without the benefit of last season’s senior leadership, we’ve been stressing the importance of facing this type of adversity,” said North Reading coach Eric Archambault, who improved to 4-2 overall with the clutch win. “We’ve talked at length about picking each other up and supporting our teammates. We got down early, 7-0, but not a single person in our dugout felt we were going to lose the game.”

The first five games of the season featured widely contrasting scoring swings, highlighted with three wins via the mercy rule but somewhat tainted by back-to-back shutout defeats.

After opening the season with an 18-3 rout of Northeast Tech, a week later North Reading was dealt a one-hit, 6-0 blanking by North Andover. On April 9, the Hornets returned home to suffer yet another shutout defeat at the hands of Weston, 5-0. The offense, which cranked out 17-hits against Northeast, had only three combined hits against their next two opponents.

The next pair of games, however, featured a resounding wakeup call for the bats. Led by Antonio Ricca and Christian Lava, each with three hits, North Reading pounded Cape Ann League foe Essex Tech, 14-1. Several days later, yet another CAL opponent felt the wrath of the resurgent Hornets as Jason Curran, Ryan Labb, and Thomas Gazda each drove-in a pair to power their club to a 14-0 drubbing of Triton Regional.

“Before this morning’s game, we had several convincing wins along with a pair of disappointing losses,” said Archambault. “They do a lot of things well but we’re still searching for that identity – who are the 2024 Hornets?”

That question was partly answered in the bottom of the second inning against Pentucket. Labb started them with a leadoff walk, followed by Forristall, safe on an error. Nick Torra drove in both baseunners with a double to the centerfield fence. Gazda took one between the shoulder blades and soon joined Torra crossing the plate off a Curran double. The Hornets closed the gap to 7-5 when Curran scored off yet another Panther error.

In the bottom of the sixth, Torra worked Panther hurler Jake Woodsum for a walk, followed by Ethan Quan who bunted for a basehit. Torra eventually scored to knot the contest at 6.  

At the outset, Dylan Matthews struggled and was relieved by Quan, who was relatively untested. After giving up a pair of runs in the top of the second, the sophomore settled down nicely, blanking the potent Pentucket hitters the rest of the way. That would include stranding Max Cloutier, who led off the seventh with a double but was left in scoring position as Quan set down the next three.

“He came in for long relief, threw 91 pitches, and effectively shut down a very good hitting team,” said Archambault. “Not only did he pitch a gem, he went 2-for-2 at the plate and ripped the game-winning single.”

Labb singled to start the pivotal seventh, stole second, and advanced to third on a Forristall bunt single. Pentucket put Torra on, choosing to face Quan instead. With a Hornet on every base, he made them pay.

At noon today, North Reading is slated to square off against the 1-2 Bedford Buccaneers in Norwich, Connecticut.

“We’ll be playing the game at Dodd Stadium which is the home of the Norwich Sea Unicorms, a former Class A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers,” explained Archambault. “For us, this trip will be a good team bonding opportunity and we’re looking forward to it.”