LYNNFIELD — Whenever the Lynnfield and North Reading baseball teams get together, you know both teams are in for a real dogfight. The Cape Ann League rivals brought their best baseball to yesterday’s Division 3 North quarterfinal matchup at Lynnfield High with both teams putting on a defensive clinic.
But it was the No. 3 Pioneers who also got the job done at the plate, with starting pitcher Fernando Gonzalez (2-for-3) and third baseman Matt Fiore (2-for-3) coming through with clutch two-out RBI singles in the first two innings to give the Pioneers a 2-0 victory.
The Pioneers now advance to the semifinals for a fourth straight year where they will play No. 14 Dracut at Alumni Field in Lowell Thursday at 7.
Junior captain Jonathan Luders played the game of his life at short, converting all 11 chances the No. 7 Hornets threw his way. He started a bang-bang double play in the second inning, snaring a line drive and doubling up Matt Solecki at first base. In the sixth, he made a highlight reel worthy diving grab to rob Marco Vittozzi of a sure base hit, then, while on his back, flipped the ball to Joey Mack to get an inning-ending force at second.
Fiore wasn’t too shabby at third either. In the fifth, he laid full out on a bunt attempt, making the catch in foul territory.
“The defense played fantastic,” said Lynnfield coach John O’Brien. “Luders was terrific, Fiore was great at third base, laying out for the foul on that bunt, who knows what happens if he doesn’t make that catch. Joey Mack was great at second base and the outfielders made the plays they had to make. This might be the best defensive game we played all year.”
Gonzalez went the distance, earning his second tournament win in two appearances. He gave up five hits (all singles), walked a batter and struck out one. Only one Hornet baserunner reached second base; Solecki beat out an infield hit after Fiore made a tremendous stop to keep the ball in the infield, then advanced to second on a passed ball.
“Nick Giammarco called a great game behind the plate and Fernando kept them off balance, with a lot of lunges and they hit a lot of ground balls,” O’Brien said. “It’s easy to play behind a kid that just catches the ball, gets the sign and goes. He has taken it to a new level.”
Both Pioneer runs were scored by players who reached base via leadoff walks. In the first, Luders walked, stole second on scored on a single by Gonzalez.
In the second, Mack walked and got to second on a sacrifice bunt by Dan Jameson. Will Garofoli followed with a single with Mack advancing to third on the play. Garofoli stole second, then Luders was hit to load the bases for Fiore, who came up with a clutch single, driving in Luders to make it 2-0.
After the game, Luders downplayed his performance, instead heaping praise on his teammates.
“This was all-around team win and a lot of fun,” he said. “Everyone, from one to nine contributed, everyone,” he said.
North Reading coach Eric Archambault saw it differently.
“That shortstop played the best defensive game I have ever seen, he was just so impressive,” said Archambault.
O’Brien summed it up neatly.
“It’s a rivalry game, but the big guy threw well, we played great defense and got some timely hits.”