LOWELL — Thanks to a pair of RBI triples from Cooper Marengi, some stellar defense and solid work on the mound, the No. 2 Lynnfield baseball team will be playing for a North title for a third straight year.
The Pioneers took down No. 14 Dracut, 5-4, in the Division 3 North semifinals at Alumni Field Thursday night. Both RBI triples from Marengi came at critical points in the game, leading Lynnfield coach John O’Brien to simply call him “clutch.”
“There’s no other way to say it, he came up with some big hits for us tonight,” O’Brien said. “He’s been struggling a little bit at the plate lately, but he’s been working through it. He had a great BP (batting practice) yesterday and another one today, and he came up with two clutch hits for us today.”
Marengi led the way for Lynnfield, going 2-for-3 with the two RBI. Fernando Gonzalez went 1-for-3 with one RBI and also earned the six-out save for the Pioneers after coming in to relieve starter Matt Fiore (5-plus IP, four runs, six hits, one strikeout).
The Pioneers struck first in the bottom of the third after Dracut left runners on second and third in the top of the inning. After Luders drew a walk to lead off, Marengi stepped in and launched a deep fly ball over the rightfielder’s head for an RBI triple. After the cutoff throw to the plate sailed into the Lynnfield dugout, Marengi raced home to make it 2-0 Pioneers.
Dracut responded in the top of the third inning. After a single and two walks loaded the bases, Brad Keefe drew an RBI walk to cut the deficit in half. The very next pitch got away from the catcher for a passed ball and brought in another run to tie the score at 2-2.
The Pioneers took the lead back in the bottom of the fourth thanks to some heads-up baserunning. With runners on first and second with one out, Dan Jameson hit a hard grounder to third base. The Dracut third baseman picked up the ball and made a throw to second, but it sailed high and into the outfield, allowing the go-ahead run to come around from second base to make it 3-2 Lynnfield.
Lynnfield was able to add to its lead in the bottom of the fifth. The Pioneers once again got a man on base for Marengi, and once again he took a ball deep to right field. This one went even deeper, banging off the outfield fence for his second RBI triple of the game to make it 4-2. Gonzalez came to bat next, and he took the first pitch he saw into right field for an RBI single to make it 5-2 Pioneers.
Dracut threatened again in the top of the sixth, putting the first two men on base and chasing Fiore from the game. Gonzalez came into the game, but the normally accurate pitcher had control issues early on. He went on to throw two wild pitches, bringing in a run to make it 5-3. Two batters later, a fielder’s choice brought in another run and cut the lead to 5-4.
But Gonzalez recovered from there, escaping the sixth with the lead and striking out two men in the top of the seventh en route to the save and the win.
“I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’ve seen him throw a wild pitch in three years,” O’Brien said of Gonzalez. “So I chalked that up to him trying a little too hard. But once he settled in and got into a groove, he showed how good of a pitcher he is.”
Next up for Lynnfield is the Division 3 North Final against No. 1 Austin Prep Sunday (3). In order to keep this momentum rolling, O’Brien knows that the Pioneers will have to keep their strong fundamentals going.
“We’ll have to play as good as we have been defensively, and we’ll have to play an all-around game,” he said. “We’ll have to play a really good game to beat them and they’ll have to play a really good game to beat us. So we’ll be ready and we’ll see what happens.”