Published in the August 8, 2019 edition.
By DAN PAWLOWSKI
WAKEFIELD — Telling a Bulldog to sit nine times over the span of a couple hours means you’re either in one of two situations: you’re training a new best friend or you’re Colin Jaena on a Tuesday night at Walsh Field.
The first-year Merchants hurler from Wakefield was dominant during his team’s 7-3 win over Reading in which Jaena struck out nine Bulldogs during his four-hit, three-run, one-walk, complete-game victory.
The Merchants had long ago turned around their slow start to the 2019 season but Tuesday night’s victory against a similarly successful program and a team the Merchants had trailed in the standings for most of the summer, was validation that Wakefield is ready for the postseason.
Second-place Alibrandis picked up consecutive wins over first-place Lexington on Monday and Tuesday, so Wakefield’s bid for a bye will come up short as they trail second by five points, but coming into the game trailing Reading by one point for third place made this game all the more important. The Bulldogs have one more game left at Alibrandis on Friday. The Merchants’ beat the Malden Maddogs 6-2 last night in their regular season finale.
The truth is, Wakefield doesn’t worry about second, third or fourth as much as they want to be playing their best baseball at this point in the season. With victories in six of their last seven games to close out the regular season, it’s safe to say they’re best baseball is happening right now.
A quick first inning led into a busy second against the Bulldogs.
Shortstop Jon Luders got the web gem of the game out of the way early in the second, as he robbed a base hit up the middle. Luders tracked it down nearly behind second base, planted his right foot and in one more step completed a spin move on the run and threw a perfect dart to first to get a speedy Chris Bosco who later stole two bases in this one.
It was enough to get two young fans sitting on the bleachers to their feet. The Merchants were excited about the play too, but their youthful exuberance wasn’t as necessary as the first time they saw the Lynnfield High graduate and Seton Hall bound/modern day Ozzie Smith make an extraordinary play.
They’re used to it now.
Jaena struck out the next batter looking and got the final out on a grounder to first.
The Merchants picked up two runs in the second. Ryan Collins started a one-out rally with a single followed by a Steve Rizzuto walk. Kevin Lucey flew out but Collins tagged to third.
That sent Joe Barry to the plate. The Merchants’ catcher isn’t the best hitter in the league, but he’s had a penchant for clutch at-bats and perhaps more importantly, Merchants manager Dave Ellegood trusts him to execute no matter the call. So, he didn’t hesitate as Barry walked up to the plate to call a squeeze bunt.
Barry laid one down just far enough to force Reading pitcher Gabe Van Emon to make the play as Collins took off for home. Like Jaena and Luders, Van Emon graduated from high school just a few months ago. The former Lexington High ace hesitated toward the plate before realizing he needed just one more out. By that time, the speedy Barry had him beat.
That brought up Luders who connected for an RBI single to left, scoring Rizzuto from second for a swift 2-0 lead.
Jaena had five strikeouts in a row in the third and fourth, but he needed a little help for the first out in the third.
Brendan McDonald sent a deep fly to right center. Center fielder Bobby Losanno and right fielder Tyler Lyne both broke back on converging paths. The former Merrimack teammates tracked the ball and communicated throughout as Lyne finally called it his, Losanno broke off and the two made a great play once again look routine. Losanno and Lyne were each named to the NE-10 All-Conference team in 2016.
Jaena got the next two batters swinging, and picked that up in the fourth when he struck out the side. Jaena had a strong mix of fastball and offspeed with a biting bender that he mostly used as his strikeout pitch. A better baseball eye might be able to tell you if it’s a curveball or a slider. No matter what it was, Jaena threw it confidently in two-strike counts and often got the Bulldogs’ to wave.
The Merchants added a run in the bottom of the third. Three walks to Lyne, Jake Nardone and Rizzuto sent up Lucey who worked another walk to bring home a run and knock Van Emon out of the game. Barry and Luders couldn’t convert against reliever Max Mardany who did a nice job of getting out of the jam.
While Jaena was doing his thing, the Merchant offense continued to add to their lead with two more in the fourth.
Dillon Koster roped a double to left center that got lost in the leaves on the outfield fence.
The wild ivy that’s now swarmed the entire chainlink in left and center probably isn’t poisonous, but even despite the challenge of tracking down baseballs that sail onto the Dobbins Courts or roll all the way down to the Charbonneau Field House, the ump and Lyne in the on-deck circle preferred not to touch it once it came back.
Former Warrior Nardone (’18) didn’t mind – he knew the value of a readily available ball at Walsh. So, when the ump asked for an extra one with Losanno up, Nardone picked it up to give Lyne for the relay to the ump, earning a disheartened look from both men.
“It’s ok I have gloves on,” said Nardone as he put the ball back into rotation.
So, yes, it’s possible that the ivy ball was the one thrown by Mardany to Lyne after Losanno was hit by a pitch. Lyne launched it right back to the fence with a two-RBI double that gave the Merchants a 5-0 lead.
Reading got on the board in the fifth. A single and a walk led off the inning but Jaena forced a pop out and even though a run scored on an ensuing grounder, the Merchants would take the out. Jaena went back to Uncle Charlie for his seventh strikeout that ended the inning.
Wakefield once again added two in the fifth. Luders started a two-out rally with a walk. Koster singled and Losanno hit a bomb over the centerfielder’s head for a two-RBI triple.
Jaena sat the Bulldogs down in order in the sixth. Although he ran into some trouble in the seventh as he allowed three singles and two runs, Jaena fittingly ended the game on a strikeout; this time with a classic fastball up in the zone, looking more like a fresh closer than a starter who had already gotten 20 outs on a humid August night.
Once again, the Merchants proved they have a balanced and talented team. Throughout their most recent run, Wakefield has shown glimpses of greatness in each game with pitching, hitting and defense.
Reading vs. Alibrandis on Friday night is the last scheduled game of the ICL’s regular season. The league’s first round playoff series, which the Merchants will be a part of, is not set, but will most likely start on Sunday or Monday.