By DAN ZIMMERMAN
NORTH READING — The Northeast League summer baseball season was turbulent, unpredictable, and for North Reading, came to an abrupt end. In the opening round of the playoffs, a resurgent Wilmington club, which had claimed enough wins down the stretch to move into the No. 3 spot, upset No. 2 North Reading, 7-5.
Wilmington benefited from enviable pitching, starting with Austin Harper, turning to Lars Ostebo in middle relief and culminating with closer Ayden Balter with the save. North Reading, meanwhile, remained in range throughout but was guilty of costly fielding errors, described by both coaches as uncharacteristic.
“We made some errors today which is not characteristic of this team,” said North Reading Coach Marco Vittozzi, who led the club to a 9-3 regular season finish. “Baseball is a tough game, not for the weak of heart. You have to have amnesia sometimes, forget about the errors, and move on to the next play.”
“That was very uncharacteristic of this North Reading team,” said Wilmington Coach Rick Hill, when asked about his opponent’s miscues.
The Northeast League, which was established in 1969, was watered down this summer, sending just five teams to area diamonds instead of the typical 12. There were several alternate baseball draws, including the New England AAU, which siphoned off many available players. The end result was an abbreviated season. Some of the participants seem to enjoy the rivalries that grew of the reduction. North Reading, for instance, fared very well against natural rival Wilmington during the regular season, racking up wins of 7-5, 10-0, and 12-2.
Wilmington gained the upper hand early in last Tuesday’s playoff game, held at Carey Field. With two outs gone in the 1st inning, North Reading suffered back-to-back errors, resulting in a pair of runs for the visitors.
Not to be outdone, North Reading rendered two-out damage in the bottom of the 1st, scoring three runs to move ahead, 3-2. Alex Carucci doubled to left, advanced to third on a wild pitch from Wilmington starter Harper and beat the tag at home on a passed ball. Later, Christian Lava and Craig Rubino scored on Antonio Ricca’s chopper that was booted by the infield defense.
The teams traded runs in the 2nd, with Ostebo tying it for Wilmington and Jacob Ghaderi reclaiming a one-run lead for North Reading.
In the 5th inning, Wilmington put a pair of men aboard with no outs. Carucci ended that threat, however, turning a double play, stepping on third and throwing out the baserunner at first.
North Reading starter Rubino who, according to Vittozzi, “has pitched well all summer and did a great job today,” got into some trouble in the 6th, yielding four straight hits, including a two-run double from Ostebo. Before Rubino could pitch out of it, Wilmington added two more runs to forge ahead, 7-4.
North Reading pieced together a rally in the bottom of the 7th, plating one and moving a pair of men into scoring position. Unfortunately, the game-tying run was left stranded on second as Wilmington closer Balter dealt a pair of strikeouts to end it.
“We hit the ball but they hit the ball better than we did,” said Vittozzi. “They hit better in the back side of the game, in the 6th inning and they deserved the win. Their pitchers threw a good game but Rubino also threw a good game. He just didn’t have the defense that he’s been accustomed to.”