Published in the June 15, 2016 edition
By MAUREEN DOHERTY
LOWELL — In a span of one week, Lynnfield’s baseball team experienced the thrill of three stunning victories and the sting of a season-ending loss in the team’s bid in the state tournament series.
Lynnfield’s terrific 19-5 season ended Saturday in the Division 3 North championship game at LeLacheur Park in Lowell. As one of the top eight Division 3 teams in the state, the Pioneers took on archrival North Reading for the sectional title.
They came out with a 5-1 loss and would have to settle for the Division 3 North finalist trophy while the Hornets (21-3) moved on to the state semifinals today against East Bridgewater at Fraser Field in Lynn at 4 p.m. The state title game will be played on Saturday at Holy Cross in Worcester.
In their 5-1 win, the Hornets manufactured seven hits and one error to the Pioneers’ four hits and three errors.
The rivals faced each other twice during the regular season, splitting the series. Lynnfield’s early season loss to North Reading April 23 triggered a 14-game win-streak for the Blue and Gold that wasn’t broken until the championship round of the Brendan Grant Tournament to Belmont in the final regular season game. That win streak enabled Lynnfield (16-4) to garner a No. 3 seed in the tournament while North Reading took the No. 1 seed at 17-3.
Still riding high from the team’s redemptive 8-7 come-from-behind win in the sectional semifinals over Austin Prep just two days earlier, during which the team’s pitching staff of Nick Aslanian, Fernando Hernandez and Nick Colucci combined their talents to stun the Cougars, Lynnfield faced the fresh arm of North Reading senior ace Greg Johnson Saturday.
Johnson had the game of his career, pitching a complete game, striking out four batters and giving up one earned run, a walk and four hits. In the words of Hornet coach Eric Archambault: “This was the best I have ever seen him.”
The best Johnson had was what it took to defeat the Pioneers, whose victories were earned through hard work with contributions provided not by any lone superstar, but by the entire roster — from the starters down to the pinch runners and hitters called up from the JV’s for the tourney.
The Hornets stuck first in the bottom of second, scoring two runs on two hits, including a defensive error by Lynnfield.
The Pioneers’ lone run came in the top of third. With one out, Lynnfield senior captain and center fielder Nick Colucci singled and then stole second during senior right fielder’s Nick Theophiles’ at-bat.
After Johnson caught Theophiles looking for the strikeout, shortstop and junior captain Justin Juliano stepped to the plate. He hit a solid RBI double deep to the outfield, but was called out attempting to stretch that double into a triple on a very close play at third base. The tag by North Reading third baseman Patrick Driscoll was ruled good in what would be a pivotal play of the game.
It was still anybody’s game after three innings. Both teams had three hits and the Hornets led 2-1.
In the bottom of the fourth, North Reading added one more run on two hits. After four innings on the mound, Coach John O’Brien called up Hernandez for the fifth. The freshman struck out the first batter he faced swinging on a full count. With good defense behind him, Lynnfield retired the side with no runs scored.
North Reading’s Johnson remained untouchable in the top of the sixth as he also managed to keep the Pioneers from earning any hits or runs.
Colucci was called in from center to the mound in the bottom of the sixth. North Reading added two insurance runs in the inning and then shut down their opponents in the bottom of the seventh to take the series.
After the game, Lynnfield Coach John O’Brien said he was very proud of his players.
“It was anti-climactic from the other night after leaving so much on the field, such high emotion. I thought we played pretty well. We made a couple of big mistakes and they capitalized. Unfortunately, when you are playing a good team like that you can’t give them those extra little things that they capitalize on and get the runs,” he said.
“I thought we competed very well in the field and I think that we didn’t swing the bats anywhere near as well as we’re capable. I give them credit. Their pitcher pitched a nice ballgame; threw a lot of strikes. They played very good defense,” O’Brien said. “We had a couple of chances, a kid thrown out at third base, a couple of other plays that looked a little close, but that’s neither here nor there.”
“I’m proud of these kids,” O’Brien said, noting the work ethic they displayed throughout the season. “For them to reach this (division championship) is a credit to them, especially the seniors. They worked hard all year, every one of them. And each one of them (in) multiple games has been the reason that we won the game.”
O’Brien believes his team had a shot to win all three of those early-season losses, which provided the impetus for those next 14 wins. “After that, they seemed to blend together. We got a pretty diverse group of freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors all together contributing, so I credit the seniors with the leadership, getting the kids together, working hard, and taking extra BP when they could. We started hitting the ball and we got great pitching all year — fantastic pitching — from those guys.”
Against North Reading, O’Brien credited senior first baseman Spencer Balian with rallying the troops in the top of seventh with his lead-off base hit and never-say-die attitude.
“He’s a great kid, a terrific leader. I know all of my captains are upset that we weren’t able to pull this one out, but it’s a credit to them and their efforts this whole year. I’m very, very proud of this whole group, especially those seven seniors,” O’Brien said.
Contributing to this report were Stephen Martellucci and Bob Turosz