By DAN ZIMMERMAN
NORTH READING — Nearly three weeks ago, North Reading claimed the Northeast Baseball League season-opener with a darkness-abbreviated 7-5 defeat of Billerica. The offense that powered that first win, however, failed to materialize in a June 28 rematch at Carey Park.
Billerica, winless through three games, sent Nolan Dawson to the mound and the freshman right-hander delivered the goods, scattering four hits while striking out 11 to record a 2-0 win.
“Their pitcher was very efficient,” said North Reading coach Marco Vittozzi. “His ball-strike ratio was terrific, at least one-to-three. He was hitting that outside corner. Our two-strike hitting strategy is to look away but he still beat us.”
North Reading starter Ryan Labb also pitched a gem, fanning a half-dozen and allowing just three hits. He deserved a far better fate but a rocky 6th inning led to his downfall. Labb walked leadoff man Jack Murch, gave up a basehit to Drew Melo, and a bunt single to Beau Courtemanche. A wild pitch later scored Murch and Melo reached on a fielding error.
A pair of unearned runs was all it took for visiting Billerica to turn the tables on North Reading and improve to 1-3 on the summer.
“Ryan pitched a great game today,” said Vittozzi, whose record is now 3-1. “He worked hard.”
The bats were quiet through two frames. In the top of the 3rd, Billerica put three aboard, via an error and a pair of walks. Labb pitched out of the bases-loaded jam, striking out a pair and then to the delight of the North Reading faithful, cutting down the runner at third who hadn’t noticed third baseman Aldo Vittozzi creeping up behind him.
Billerica hurler Dawson, who went the distance, quickly extinguished the North Reading momentum, striking out the side in the bottom of the 3rd.
In the 4th, Alex Carucci picked up the first Hornet base hit of the afternoon and quickly stole second. But with two out, the threat was short-lived as Dawson got Zach Rosatone to fly out. Another North Reading opportunity went by the boards in the 5th, as Dawson struck out a pair to strand Chris Lava, who had earlier doubled, at third base.
“Sometimes this game can be cruel,” said Vittozzi. “You just can’t seem to get a hit when you need one. We had runners on second base a few times but just couldn’t come up with a hit and couldn’t get the runners in. We just took too many strikes.”
Trailing 2-0 into the final innings, North Reading added a pair of two-out base hits, one from Aldo Vittozzi in the 6th, and the other, Lava in the 7th. Noteworthy between the final two frames was eighth-grader Dylan Matthews, who relieved Labb and struck out the side.
Despite the defeat, North Reading remains in first place, leading the five-team Northeast League with six points. Westford, a perennial top team in summer baseball, is closing fast with four points and a game in hand.
“The kids played a good game,” said Vittozzi. “The defense played well. I think it was a good game all around.”