OWEN RIDDELL pitched an incredible game for the Warriors in their first round matchup against St. Mary’s on Sunday at Fraser Field. The senior captain gave up just two hits and two runs while striking out seven in six innings. (Dan Pawlowski Photo)
By DAN PAWLOWSKI
LYNN — The Wakefield High baseball team, ranked No. 23 in Div. 2, looked like a David to the fans of the Goliath No. 10 St. Mary’s baseball team at Fraser Field in Lynn on Sunday. Of course, that confidence was earned.
The notoriously well-coached and talented Spartans – Div. 2 state champions in 2021 and fresh off a nine-game winning streak that was only snapped, 2-1 by D1 power St. John’s Prep on May 29 – were starting sophomore southpaw and CCL All-Star Josh Doney and had a lineup littered with dangerous hitters, including three more All-Stars.
The wonder of their opponent and their rank didn’t strike fear amongst the Fraser faithful.
All it took was one inning to change that.
An RBI base hit from senior captain Matt Elwell made it 1-0 in the top of the 1st, and senior captain Owen Riddell struck out two of those aforementioned All-Stars, Tommy Falasca and Tad Giardina, in the bottom half, the beginning of an incredible game that saw the Warriors take a 2-0 lead after three before St. Mary’s tied it in the 4th and eventually won it, 3-2, on a walk-off in the 7th.
The expectations for the visitors in this game mirrored that of their season overall. With only five seniors, this team wasn’t supposed to be here at Fraser with a Middlesex League Freedom Division trophy in tow.
“I don’t think the expectations – outside of these 20 guys and the coaching staff –included being at this point after winning 15 games and a league title, so that’s what I tried to remind them, especially the seniors to say ‘you guys turned everything around,’” said Wakefield head coach Kevin Canty. “People were not expecting much out of us this year and to be able to get to this point, with chances to win the game, it’s where we want to be. A couple things didn’t go our way, we didn’t execute a couple things and it is what it is.”
Riddell (6 IP, 2H, 2ER, 4BB, 7K) Wakefield’s own southpaw ace, pitched like one of the best in the state throughout Sunday’s cold and rainy conditions.
The senior had a no-hitter and 6 strikeouts going through three frames before the Spartans and their fans worked to change the momentum in the 4th.
Doney (7IP, 4H, 2ER, 7K, 1BB) was equally as impressive, especially with his ability to settle in, shutting out the Warriors in the final four innings while the Spartans did their best, unsuccessfully, to break Riddell who battled for each of an incredible 109 pitches.
“He threw like an ace that we’ve seen all throughout the year,” said Canty. “We knew we needed him to win this game. He gave us everything he could for 109 pitches. He just pitched like an ace today and you could see it from inning one. We’ve seen that a few times from him – when he’s going like that, we’re tough to beat.”
And the Warriors certainly were.
Junior Tylor Roycroft reached first on a hit-by-pitch to start the game and later came around to score on Elwell’s RBI knock, a beautiful piece of hitting in which he went the other way with it, neatly into left field for a 1-0 lead. Doney, as he would do for the rest of the day, buckled down with a groundout and strikeout to end the inning.
Riddell’s 2nd was just as impressive as his 1st with two more K’s, one swinging on a nasty off-speed delivery and one looking on a heater.
The visitors added to their lead in the 2nd thanks to a leadoff double by sophomore Cam DePrizio. Roycroft reached on a bunt hit but was then caught in a pickle, trying to buy time for DePrizio to score but the Spartans were ready for it, getting the out and keeping DePrizio at third, until a wild pitch later pushed him across anyways for a 2-0 advantage.
With two more strikeouts in the 3rd, getting the vaunted Falasca looking for the second time to end it, Riddell was officially dealing, and those apparent David’s created a tense atmosphere, forcing Spartan fans to look deeper.
“Apparently they went 15-5 this year,” came some chatter on the third base line after a closer glance at the bracket.
To their credit, St. Mary’s and their fans knew a momentum shift was needed. Their energy changed going into the bottom of the 4th, sparked by freshman All-Star Mike Demaino, whose leadoff single on the first pitch from Riddell got the dugout going to another decibel. That led to Giardina being hit by another first pitch offering, forcing Warrior assistant coach Tom Leahy to the mound to quiet the stadium. Riddell, with positive chatter from his infielders Elwell, junior Frank Leone, Roycroft and freshman Aidan Bligh, responded by getting a popup. A groundout resulted in the first run for St. Mary’s and with a runner at 3rd and two out, a clutch base hit tied the game. Riddell ended the inning on a well-executed pick-off at first which created a pickle that Riddell himself ended, diving to tag the runner and dirty up the jersey, which was a more classic and accurate image for the Warrior who as coach Canty said, gave them everything he could.
Doney sat Wakefield down in order in the 5th and Riddell worked around a one-out walk in the bottom half to keep it tied at 2-2 after five.
Leone had a one-out infield single in the 6th but the Warriors couldn’t get anything else going.
Demaino led off his 6th with a walk, and later, a one-out intentional walk to slugger Chris Marks put Riddell in a tough spot. He responded with his final and most impressive K of the day, freezing Cam McGonagle on a bender for the second out, getting Wakefield’s faithful to their feet once again.
A walk loaded the bags and one pitch after another apparent strikeout was taken away with a questionable ball called, Riddell responded again, getting a groundout to Leone to end it.
A leadoff walk for Wakefield in the 7th was erased by another pickoff from Doney, which ended any Warrior threat before it started.
After all those pitches, Wakefield was forced to their bullpen, calling on freshman lefty Andrew Martin who put together a terrific debut season on the mound.
Of course, as is so often the case when an ace with dominant stuff doesn’t trot back up the hill, the Spartans felt like it was their time to end it in the bottom of the 7th. A leadoff single led to a bunt that Wakefield was ready for, charging in but an errant throw to second base resulted in runners at 1st and 2nd with no outs and the top of the order coming up. Falasca came up clutch this time, ripping a base hit up the middle to end it.
“We have a lot of young guys and they’re going to make some mistakes but the mistakes made today weren’t really about being worried or afraid of the moment, they just lost a little focus at times,” said Canty. “Those younger guys are going to be a lot better and they’re going to build off of this going into next year.”
In the end, despite the valiant effort and respect earned from one of the state’s consistently best programs, Wakefield of course felt the disappointment of a game they knew they could win. Call these Warriors David’s if you want. They know it doesn’t make sense. The 2023 league champs were never underdogs, despite a questionable ranking and a brutal first round matchup, a fate that every Middlesex League team dealt with this year, including one of the Liberty Division’s best in Reading (14-6, No. 26 in D2) who upset No. 7 Pope Francis in the first round and will go to Fraser tomorrow to play St. Mary’s in the second round.
In the end, Wakefield’s young group, of which seven of the nine in the batting order on Sunday will return next year, is set up for success in years to come. That of course, is thanks to seniors Riddell, Elwell, captain John Porter, Drew Barrett and Dakota Streeter, who set the tone, not only for this year’s championship banner, but for seasons to come.
“It’s going to be tough to replace them, Matty, John, Owen, Drew, Dak, it’s going to be tough,” said Canty. “We have guys who can step into those roles but just the way they led throughout the season, regardless of how they were doing offensively, pitching, defensively, whatever they were doing, they led these guys and did everything the right way which is all we can ask for from the senior group.
“I’m proud of them. They can walk into the gym anytime, see that 2023 league title and know they led that.”