LUKE ICKES struck out 6 and scattered 5 hits and 2 earned runs over 4.1 innings against Melrose in a state tournament preliminary round game yesterday at Morelli Field. (Dan Pawlowski Photo)


MELROSE — Both teams were so ready to go, that the first pitch for the 3 p.m. scheduled Div. 2 preliminary round state tournament game between rivals Wakefield and Melrose was released at 2:57 p.m. yesterday afternoon at Morelli Field.

The last pitch, also tossed by Melrose starter Dom Drago who threw a complete game, resulted in the final out of the season for Wakefield as the Red Raiders won the 2022 rivalry rubber match by a score of 5-3.

“We had some chances to knock their starter out and we didn’t do it,” said Wakefield head coach Kevin Canty. “The more (Drago) hung around, the more confidence he got.”

That confidence belonged to Wakefield early in this one. They scored two runs in the 1st and one more in the 2nd to take a healthy 3-0 lead.

Melrose scratched one on the board in the 3rd but Wakefield ace Luke Ickes (4.1 IP, 5R, 2ER, 6K, 3BB) stepped up to keep his team in control through three.

Drago settled in through the middle innings, keeping the Warrior bats quiet as Melrose mounted their comeback.

The home team tied it at 3-3 in the 4th after a couple of key errors and they later took a 5-3 lead in the 5th.

Wakefield’s Owen Riddell entered in the 5th and racked up an impressive four strikeouts in 1.2 innings of work including a 6th inning in which he struck out the side, mostly with a dominant heater that Melrose couldn’t catch up to.

OWEN RIDDELL racked up all four of his outs in 1.1 innings of relief by way of the K yesterday including striking out the side in the 6th. (Dan Pawlowski Photo)

Jack Berinato led off with a base hit in the 6th but was caught stealing after two fly outs.

Zack Kent walked for the second time with two outs in the 7th but the Warriors couldn’t mount a comeback as Drago closed the door.

Wakefield’s first two runs in the opening inning came on RBI’s from Kent and Steven Woish.

Evan Simoneau and Matt Elwell started the game with back-to-back singles and a productive fielder’s choice off the bat of Kent made it 1-0. Kent later stole second and Woish brought him home on an opposite field base hit to right.

As was the case all day for Drago, he was able to limit damage but Wakefield had set the tone.

That tone continued in the bottom half with great defense, highlighted by a diving, snow-cone catch in left by Woish who went into an all-out dive to his left while charging in for the web gem of the day.

Michael Parent followed that up with a smooth, backhand pick at 2nd base, just one of multiple impressive defensive plays by the senior this season, who has played anywhere his team needed him.

“I have to give Mike Parent a major shoutout,” said Canty about Parent, Wakefield’s catcher for the majority of games this year, a position he hadn’t played since 8th grade.

Berinato’s first base hit of the day led off the 2nd inning. Nathan Ickes followed with a sharp single to left and Simoneau later walked with one out to load the bags.

Elwell grounded out to first but Berinato came around to make it 3-0. The Red Raiders chose to walk Kent to load the bases. Nick Knowles then gave it a ride but it was tracked down in the outfield, a nice play that saved three runs.

NICK KNOWLES lines up a base hit in the 5th inning yesterday at Morelli Field. (Dan Pawlowski Photo)

A leadoff single and a walk got Melrose started in their half of the 4th. Ickes battled back, freezing Ben Cassavoy after multiple foul balls to strike him out looking.

Two errors on back-to-back plays then tied the game. Ickes stepped off to catch a Melrose runner breaking for third but a missed tag made runners safe at second and third with one out rather than a runner at second with two down. The inning should’ve ended on the next play when Ickes fielded a tough grounder off the mound and made a nice throw to first but it was dropped. That scored a run to make it 3-2 and a sacrifice fly tied it up. Ickes bounced back through the tough luck to get the final out and keep the game even but the baseball gods were now with Melrose.

“It spiraled for us when we started to make some mistakes,” said Canty. “We’ve made little mistakes all season that got magnified because they happened at big times, which is what happened today.

“You can’t do that in state tournament type atmospheres; you’re going to give up runs and then momentum changes.”

Knowles tried to get things going again in the 5th with a one-out base hit but nothing came of it.

A leadoff bunt hit got things going for Melrose in the bottom half and a one-out RBI single gave the home team the lead.

Riddell came on with one out and runners at the corners. A wild pitch brought one in but the lefty turned it on from there, getting two strikeouts to end the inning, providing perhaps a glimpse of things to come next season.

In the end, it was a tough pill to swallow for a close-knit group of Warriors featuring 13 seniors who led the way in sparking a comeback to win four of their final six games and make the state tournament.

“We can be proud of that,” said Canty in regards to making the tournament, something clinched in an unforgettable walk-off win over Div. 1 Andover last weekend. “We battled through a lot of injuries to make it here. This group of 13 seniors has been through a lot. They missed out on their whole sophomore season which was key as far as development but they came on towards the end of the year.”

Knowles, Kent, Berinato, Parent, Simoneau, Nathan Ickes, Luke Ickes, Aidan Riley, Drew Riley, Don Dubuque, Tim Connolly, Jeff DiFazio and Liam Stromski didn’t get the full high school baseball experience they deserved, but they leave Wakefield baseball as a group closer than any in recent memory.

“Obviously, losing 13 guys is going to be a lot to replace next year,” said Canty. “On the mound, in the field, at the plate we are losing a lot of quality guys, energy guys. It’s going to be tough.”