Swampscott survives Little League pitchers’ duel

Liam Wales is sky high after scoring the winning run Sunday. (Anne Marie Tobin)

SAUGUS — Every once in a while, there are games where it is a shame that someone has to lose.

Sunday night’s District 16 elimination game between Peabody and Swampscott at Elks Field is a prime example.

Pitching and clutch defensive play ruled the day for both teams, but in the end, it was Swampscott that came up with the timely hitting when it needed it most – in the bottom of the sixth inning — to come away with an exciting 1-0 walkoff win.

Peabody starting southpaw Daniel Zizza carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning and got the first out of the inning, stabbing a hard grounder back to the mound on his backhand. After reaching his pitch count, lefty Cam Connolly came on in relief and surrendered a single to Liam Wales, who alertly took second when the ball got past a Peabody outfielder.

Up next was Swampscott starter Quinn Hitchcock.  He hit a hard ground ball through short, giving Swampscott runners at second and third with Jason Bouffard at the plate.

Peabody manager Rick DeLoreto gambled and intentionally walked Bouffard to load the bases for  Ben O’Brien. Down 0-2 in the count, O’Brien blooped a pop up to short right that glanced off a diving Michael Petro’s glove as the second baseman was back-peddling, bringing Wales home with game winning run.

“Ben is just a great contact hitter who rarely strikes out and was supposed to take the first pitch but couldn’t hear me as he said the noise was too loud,” said Swampscott manager Joe McGonagle.  “It was just a great at-bat and he came through for us. I’m glad there was only one out, as even if they had made that catch, we still score on the play I have to believe.”

The win sets up a must-win clash against Salem tonight (5:45 at East Lynn), which defeated Pine Hill in another elimination game Sunday.

“It was an incredible pitchers’ duel right to the end,” said McGonagle.  “Today’s game was about defense and pitching by both sides, and the kids just made plays.  We had some great plays in the field with Quinn Fitzpatrick, when he had just come into the game the inning before, probably saving the game for us when he made a great throw from left field on that long ball to the fence to keep their guy (Daniel Zizza) to a single in the top of the sixth, and then Ryan Ward made a couple of amazing catches at the fence in center field.”

Both teams had runners on base in every inning but Zizza and Hitchcock were more than up to the challenge and get out of every jam unscathed until the sixth.  Hitchcock allowed only three hits in five full innings before reaching his pitch count. He was relieved by shortstop Daniel Dominiconi in the sixth, who pulled off  a Houdini-like finish to keep Peabody off the board.

Zizza, who had already singled and doubled, ripped a ball down the line to left that Fitzpatrick retrieved, holding him to a single.  He reached second on a long sacrifice fly by Reymi Andino to center but was stranded when Dominiconi sandwiched a strikeout and force play at third (to get Zizza) around a walk to Alex Silva.

“All 12 of our kids gave everything they had, so I could not ask for anything more,” said Peabody manager Rick DeLoreto.  “We had our chances with a lot of guys on second and third base, but couldn’t get that one hit when we needed it, just like our first game. Tonight, Daniel (Zizza) was just amazing and we had some great plays at second early from Chris Shea.  There were very few mistakes in this game and I’m happy that it wasn’t an error that made the difference.”

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