Big games at Benevento

Published in the July 16, 2015 edition

A GROUP OF PLAYERS from North Reading Little League appeared as guests of the Red Sox Foundation and HP Hood on NESN Clubhouse Sunday. In its second season, NESN Clubhouse is a commercial free pregame show for kids, hosted by Red Sox reporter Gary Striewski and junior reporter TJ Hourighan. (Courtesy Photo)

A GROUP OF PLAYERS from North Reading Little League appeared as guests of the Red Sox Foundation and HP Hood on NESN Clubhouse Sunday. In its second season, NESN Clubhouse is a commercial free pregame show for kids, hosted by Red Sox reporter Gary Striewski and junior reporter TJ Hourighan. (Courtesy Photo)


NORTH READING — Little League’s tournament season is in full swing and the spotlight will shine brightly on Benevento Memorial Park over the coming week.

It all starts this evening with a twin-bill when the Massachusetts District 13 11-year-old and 12-year-old championship games take place at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., respectively, on Field 1. North Reading’s 12s went an impressive 4-1 in round-robin play and were in position to advance to the title game based on their semifinal result at Acton on Tuesday.

The stakes get even higher next week when Benevento is the site of the 12-year-old State Sectional Championships, which will involve four teams in round-robin play. Games are scheduled for July 21-24.

“This is a big way to end what’s been a outstanding spring for North Reading Little League,” said NRLL president Eddie Madden. “With the improvements to our fields, we’ve become a desired location for games of this magnitude.

“In a way, these events are serving as a dry run for the State Championships, which we hope to host in 2017,” continued Madden. “While we still have some upgrades to make to the overall facility, the fields are of the highest standard and much of the credit for that goes to Marty Tilton and his group at Parks and Recreation.”

NRLL and Parks and Rec have joined forces over the past two years to improve Fields 1 and 2 at Benevento, resurfacing and re-sodding the infields along with other enhancements. Similar work on Field 3 is slated to begin this fall.

In addition to tournament play, Benevento is alive with North Reading’s Jimmy Fund Summer League games for the ages 8/9, 9/10, and 10-12 divisions, and hosted a Jimmy Fund Jamboree last weekend that brought more than a dozen teams to North Reading from surrounding towns.

Over the course of a calendar year, the Benevento complex hosts more than 275 baseball games.


NRLL’s 9-year-old tournament team has started off 2-0 in North Andover’s Soucy Tournament, defeating Shedd Park (Lowell) and host North Andover. The team will go for its third straight win when it faces Tewksbury on Friday night at Cal Thomas Field (5:30 p.m.).

Against Shedd Park, the Hornets rallied for a 16-8 decision. Evan Panzini threw 2.1 innings of standout relief to earn the decision and also contributed at the plate with three hits, 3 RBI, and a pair of runs scored.

Trailing, 6-2, after one inning of play, the Hornets went on the offensive with Aidan Driscoll (2-3, 3 runs, 3 RBI, 1 2B, 1 3B) and Nicholas Jones (3-3, 2 2B, 5 RBI) leading the way. An all-around team win, North Reading took control in the fourth when Jones, Derek Daley, and Sean Heins walked with one out. Zac Demetri followed with a two-run double to left-center and the Hornets never looked back.

In their first game, Jones delivered an RBI double with two outs in the bottom of the sixth to provide for a dramatic 4-3 victory over North Andover.

The Hornets fell behind early, 3-0, after a few miscues in the field, but pitcher Jack Cronin battled through it to go 4.2 innings, giving up three hits, walking two, and striking out four. The win went to closer Brandon Eng, who worked one inning, gave up one hit, and recorded a strikeout.

North Reading got on the board in the bottom of the fourth when catcher Driscoll (3-3, 2 runs, 3B) crushed a 1-1 fastball off the top of the fence in right-center for a triple. He was then driven in on Cronin’s fielder’s choice. Still trailing, 3-1, heading into the bottom of the sixth, Driscoll started the rally with a one-out single and was immediately plated on Panzini’s double. Panzini moved to third on a throwing error and scored on Cronin’s sacrifice to the right side. Conor Griffin then singled and raced around the bases on Jones’ hit to deliver the victory.

In addition to the offensive output, the Hornets received outstanding defensive plays from 3B/SS Aldo Vitozzi, SS Eng, 2B Heins, 2B Alex Chaisson, 3B Rowan Oostman, CF Jones, and LF Demetri.


North Reading’s 14/15-year-old Pony League team is near the top of the South Division standings with an 8-2 mark, aided by a recent three-game winning streak.

The latest of those wins came Saturday morning at the Hood School with an 11-1 triumph over Billerica Green. Matt Debenedetto racked up four RBI for the winners, three of those coming on a smoked shot home run over the left field fence in the fourth inning. He also doubled in a run in the third inning. Greg Sawyer contributed a two-run double and an RBI single in the victory, and Kyle Bythrow added a run-scoring single in the sixth.

Billerica for no answer for Hornets pitcher Shea Malloy, who allowed just one run, walked one, and struck out four during his five innings of work.

The pitching was even better for North Reading a night earlier in Lowell when Derek Reilly fired a five-inning no-hitter in a 13-0 shutout of Lowell PYO. Reilly walked four, struck out five, and received stellar defense from first baseman Joe Wallace, who had eight putouts.

Last Thursday, John Day was the ace on the hill, going five strong innings in a 12-3 decision at Reading. Matt Solecki then closed it out with an inning of shutout work.

The 13-year-old Pony League team continues to improve, with a win and a tie in recent action to improve to 2-7-1.

Against Wilmington last Tuesday, North Reading secured a 5-4 decision, winning when Ryan Kavanaugh worked himself out of a rundown between third base and home to score in the bottom of the seventh.

Richie McGuire started on the mound and came out strong, striking out the first batter he faced and seven overall during 5.1 innings of work. The Hornets got on the board in the first with a solid single to right by Andrew Debenedetto that knocked in Jimmy Currier. Matt Luciano singled in the fifth and Billy McCann worked the count for a key walk and both players eventually came around the bases to put North Reading up, 3-2.

Defense on the left side of the field by shortstop Chris Gwozdz and third baseman Gerry Callagy helped keep the game close. Wilmington put a run on the board in the sixth to tie the game and scored again in the seventh to go ahead. But North Reading’s bats came alive in the bottom of that frame. Luciano’s double down the third-base line got things started, Kavanaugh then picked up an important walk, and McGuire hit a two-out single to tie the game. Now stationed at third base, Kavanaugh found himself in a run-down, but came home safely on a ball that got past the catcher to hand the Hornets the “walk off” win.

This past Monday, the Hornets journeyed to Dracut and played to a 5-5 tie. Currier was a workhorse on the mound, going the distance.

North Reading picked up two runs in the third inning when Evan Steele and Currier crossed the plate after consecutive hits by Gwozdz, Callagy, and Perrone. Three more runs scored in the fifth with Perrone, McGuire, and Danny Hornby all getting hits and reaching home.

Dracut chipped away at North Reading’s lead and ultimately tied the game in the bottom of the seventh with two singles. Currier then kicked it up a notch and got in a groove in the eighth inning by striking out the side on 11 very efficient pitches, used 12 pitches on four batters in the ninth inning, and needed only nine pitches in the 10th inning to retire the final three batters to end the game.

The key defensive play came with Chris McCann fielding a ground ball at deep second base and throwing a Dracut runner out at home plate to preserve North Reading’s early lead. Offensively, Perrone was on fire, leading the Hornets in the clean-up spot with two singles and two doubles, all blasts to the outfield.


There will be plenty of baseball opportunities for North Reading Little League players this fall. The Diamond Club program, run by NRLL player development director Marco Vittozzi, will again field both small diamond and big diamond teams. These teams practice one-two times per week and play on Saturdays from early September through mid-October. NRLL, meanwhile, offers a seven-week small diamond program for ages 7-12 with one game per week on Sundays (starting Sept. 13). Players can participate in both programs.

The Diamond Club is a “tryout” team. Small diamond tryouts (for next year’s 10-12-year-olds) take place on Saturday, Aug. 22, at 9 a.m., at Benevento. Big diamond tryouts (for next year’s 13-16-year-olds) are scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 22, at 11 a.m., at North Reading High School. The rain date for tryouts is Sunday, Aug. 23. Direct any Diamond Club questions to Marco Vittozzi at .

NRLL Fall Ball is a sign-up league priced at $90. Registration will begin in the coming weeks at Questions regarding Fall Ball should be sent to NRLL Fall Ball director Mike Correale at