THE HORNETS host Newburyport at Carey Park on April 16. North Reading is 2-2 to start the season. They host Pentucket on Thursday at 10 a.m. (NRHS Athletics Photo)


NORTH READING — Keeping with a long-standing tradition of baseball excellence, the North Reading Hornets are off to a great start this season, despite their heartbreaking first defeat last Saturday morning.

Facing Newburyport in a third straight home game at Carey Park, North Reading was firmly in the driver’s seat, leading by a pair of runs heading into the sixth-inning. But the Pioneers halved the deficit with a two-out basehit and then added two runs in the final frame to complete a come-from-behind win, 5-4.

North Reading fell to 2-1 overall (0-1 Cape Ann League) while Newburyport claimed its first CAL win, improving to 3-2.

“It was a frustrating loss,” said North Reading coach Eric Archambault. “I told the team that from an offensive standpoint, we had plenty of chances but shot ourselves in the foot by leaving baserunners in scoring position. I thought we had some chances for big innings but weren’t able to come through.”

Archambault was referring to, among others, a second-inning bases-loaded double play ball, as well as the third and fourth frames, each which ended with a runner left standing on third. North Reading stranded eight men, all in scoring position.

That was not the case several days earlier, however, when Northeast Metro paid a midweek visit and departed early, sent packing in the fifth-inning after a mercy-rule abbreviated 12-2 drubbing.

At the outset, the Knights got to North Reading starter Nick Doucette for a pair of doubles, sandwiched around an intentional walk. Two would score before Doucette settled and it wasn’t long before Northeast was in the rearview mirror as the Hornets’ bats came alive. In the second inning, Nicholas Ciardello led off with a walk and moved to third on a Jack Fischer double. Aldo Vittozzi ripped a 2-run triple and later scored on a passed ball to put his team ahead, 3-2.

“We had a little trouble throwing strikes early and we had a couple of first inning jitters that we quickly overcame,” said Archambault. “We sent in Ryan Ladd on a planned move. As a freshman, in his first varsity appearance, he had three innings of well-pitched ball and I was impressed.”

North Reading put up a crooked number in the third, as Alex Carucci doubled to left to deliver Craig Rubino and then crossed on a wild pitch. Later, Jason Curran added a pair of RBIs off a two-out basehit. In the bottom of the fifth, Fischer, Vittozzi, Anthony Corvino, Matt Ryan, and Rubino, representing the 12th run, crossed before the umpire signaled for the mercy rule.

“We feel that we have a deep lineup, one-through-nine,” said Archambault. “We have people who can put the ball in play, they understand the counts, and what we’re trying to do in that regard. One of our strengths is a good solid approach. The kids have bought into it and we have a bunch of heads-up baserunners.”

Saturday morning’s conditions were similar to the season opener, with a chill in the air and blustery winds. North Reading went with Tim McCarthy, who faced the minimum through three. His counterpart, Newburyport senior Lucas Stallard, was equally successful, getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the second, but not before the Hornets took a 1-0 lead on a Curran RBI-single.

Newburyport climbed into a 2-1 lead in the fourth but North Reading responded in kind, moving back on top, 4-2. Vittozzi and Corvino scored off a booted ball at third base and Curran added an insurance run, driven in by Alex Carruci.

The Clippers closed to within a run in the sixth and then moved ahead, 5-4, in the final frame with a pair. North Reading came up, hoping for a last gasp rally. Carucci was aboard with a lead off walk but Newburyport erased the baserunner on a force, followed by a strike out, grounder, and a popup to end it.

“We’ve been hitting the ball well, especially in that game with Northeast,” said Archambault. “But today, we just couldn’t get that clutch hit when we needed it.”

North Reading traveled to face Triton on Monday morning (results in after press time), will host Pentucket Thursday morning, and will wrap up a busy vacation week with a Saturday morning visit to Shawsheen.