LOWELL — The way Sunday’s Division 3 North final game between Lynnfield and defending champion Austin Prep was going, you knew it would come down to who was going to get that one big hit or one big break.
In the end, it was the Cougars who got both as they managed to claw their way to a 2-0 win to deny the Pioneers in the north finals for the third time in the last four years.
The Cougars’ Dylan Arnold did the honors in the bottom of the fifth inning, smacking a two-run double to deep center field to score the only runs of the game.
The win was the 18th straight for Austin Prep, which moves on to play South champion Dedham in the state semifinals Tuesday night at 6:30 at Fraser Field.
“That’s baseball,” said Lynnfield coach John O’Brien. “It was a terrific game by both teams and we competed right to the end, but we just couldn’t get the big knock when we needed it.
“Our guy (Fernando Gonzalez) pitched a great game and so did their guy, they just got the big hit and we didn’t. Overall, still a great season.”
Through 4 ½ innings, the game was scoreless, with Pioneer junior lefty Gonzalez and his Cougar southpaw counterpart Cameron Seguin dominating the show, allowing just three hits combined.
Gonzalez got off to a shaky start, giving up a one-out single to designated hitter Colin Jaena. After Jaena advanced to second when Gonzalez threw wide on a pickoff attempt, Gonzalez walked the next two batters to load the bases for right fielder Jake Thain. However, Gonzalez got out of the jam with a strikeout.
The Pioneers got something going in the top of the second when second baseman Joey Mack beat out an infield hit, then got to second on a single by first baseman Dan Jameson.
Seguin bore down and struck out the next two Pioneers to get out of the inning unscathed.
After that, Seguin (2 hits, 8 strikeouts, 1 walk) put on a clinic, retiring the final 15 Pioneers in order to secure the victory. He allowed just three baserunners all day with his only hiccup being a leadoff walk to the the first batter of the game, shortstop Jonathan Luders.
Seguin got all the runs he needed in the fifth inning. Gonzalez (3 hits, 3 walks, 2 hit batters) hit second baseman Jonathan Gilbride and first baseman Denis Taylor to start the inning. O’Brien protested the call on Taylor, arguing unsuccessfully that because Taylor had squared to bunt and did not pull his bat back, the pitch was a strike.
Gonzalez regrouped and struck out third baseman Alex Martinez, only to be burned by Arnold, who drilled a shot into the left-center gap to bring Gilbride and Taylor home.
“Cam just did what he has been doing all year, he was just unbelievable today,” said Austin Prep coach Steve Busby. “Their pitcher threw a really good game, too, but in the end we got the clutch hit from Dylan and then Cam did the rest.”
For Lynnfield senior captain Cooper Marengi, the Pioneers had nothing to hang their heads.
“Fernando pitched his butt off today, I think that was his best outing of the season especially considering we were playing a very good team,” he said. “Coach O’Brien told us that we couldn’t just be happy to get here because obviously we wanted to win this game badly. It was our third straight year in this game, but honestly this was probably the first year where nobody really expected us to get this far.”
Luders, a junior captain, agreed.
“Losing so many players from last year we knew the situation we were in,” the Seton Hall commit said. “But after the first game (7-0 loss to North Reading), we came together and figured it all out. We definitely exceeded all expectations.”
Senior captain Nick Giammarco said the key was having so many new starters step up.
“We had a very deep bench last year and could fill in from top to bottom, and we had some new guys like Clay (Marengi) and Will (Garofoli) step up, so we knew we had the talent,” he said. “I think once we figured out who we were, we showed the way we played there was no drop off from last year.”
The Pioneers finished the season 19-5.