LOWELL — The Fenwick Crusaders are Division 3 North champions.
Fenwick came from behind to beat Lynnfield, 8-2, to capture the Division 3 North championship at Stan Stoklosa Alumni Field Saturday.
Trailing 2-0 going into the top of the fourth inning, the No. 4 Crusaders had no answers for Pioneers starter Fernando Gonzalez, who struck out seven of the nine batters he faced through three innings.
But their second time through the order was a different story for the Crusaders, who got the bats going in a big way in the fourth. Four straight base hits, three of them long doubles to the deepest part of the ball park along with a walk, hit batter and three costly Pioneers errors added up a 6-2 Crusaders lead.
Jake Miano, who came on in relief of starter Christian Loescher in the second, did the rest in a masterful outing. He allowed just two hits (one of them infield) in six innings. He retired 13 of the final 16 batters with one walk and six strikeouts to punch the Crusaders’ ticket into the state semifinal against South champion Medway Tuesday at Alumni Field (4).
“After that first inning, we just said ‘let’s go to somebody else and change things up to give them a different look,'” said Fenwick coach Russ Steeves. “It may have thrown them off balance a little bit. I was going to go to Jason (Romans) the next inning if I felt for half a second that Jake didn’t have it. But he just shut me up and kept it going the rest of the game.”
On paper, the Pioneers looked to have the edge in experience as they were making a fourth straight appearance in the Division 3 North final. Fenwick, on the other hand, had not been to a sectional final since 2004, the last time the Crusaders won a state title.
Ironically, the last time the two teams squared off in the tournament was at Alumni in 2012. Fenwick was in the driver’s seat with a 5-1 lead going into the seventh. But the Pioneers pulled on out of their hat, scoring five runs to steal a 6-5 semifinal win.
“We talked to the kids about that and how anything is possible,” said Lynnfield coach John O’Brien. “(Saturday), it came down to they got base hits with men on base and we didn’t. We threw the ball around a little bit there which is uncharacteristic of us and they capitalized and then they had a couple of big clutch hits. Credit to them, that was the difference and they did a nice job.”
It didn’t help the Pioneers’ cause that Lynnfield’s five through nine batters were 0-for-13.
Things did not start well for Fenwick. Gonzalez struck out the side in the top of the first in dominant fashion, then Lynnfield broke the bats open.
Loescher hit leadoff batter Jonathan Luders, but Fenwick catcher Keegan O’Connor gunned him down attempting to steal second. John Singer and Clay Marengi followed with back-to-back singles. Gonzalez (3-for-4) blasted a 2-run double to deep center to put the Pioneers on top, 2-0. Matt Fiore walked and then Jaret Simpson got hit to load the bases, but Loescher struck out the next batter to get out of the jam.
“Christian showed his resilience, versatility in getting out of that bases-loaded first,” Steeves said. “That was a big spot for him ad we needed him to get out of that inning as we had nobody ready to go.”
Gonzalez hit Angelo McCullough to lead off the fourth. He stole second only to be picked off by Pioneer catcher Simpson, who also picked off a runner at second in the third. O’Connor walked and scored on Trey Deloury’s double. Ethan Belt (2-for-4, 2 RBI, 2 runs) doubled Deloury home to make it 2-0. Cory Bright (2-for-3, 2 RBI, run) brought Belt home with another double. Scott Emerson kept the line moving with a bunt single. After that, it got ugly for the Pioneers. Gonzalez threw Harrison Brickett’s bunt into right field to bring two more runs home. Then, Simpson’s pickoff attempt at third ended up in left field, bringing home Brickett to make it 6-2.
Fenwick put the game out of reach with two more in the fifth, the big hits being a RBI double by Belt and Bright’s RBI single.
Luders led the bottom of the fifth with a long fly ball to the fence in left only to be robbed by McCullough.
“That could have changed things as I probably get at least to third with some excellent hitters behind me,” Luders said.
Luders gave Lynnfield some hope with a 2-out walk in the seventh, but Miano got the last out on a routine fly ball to seal the win.
“It’s about staying in the fight and never giving up,” said McCullough. “Jake just came in and threw strikes and was in the zone. He used all of his pitches effectively. He really pitched to contact and he trusted his defense.”