HUDSON -- Youth sports are often thought of as a means to teach kids the value of teamwork, camaraderie and how to push forward when things are not going well. Wednesday night, the Ayer-Shirley U10 baseball team learned a valuable lesson in its 10-0 mercy-shortened Cal Ripken District Championship loss to Marlboro.
"We have learned a lot from that team," Ayer head coach Don Consalvo said of Marlboro. "Watching those guys aggressively run the bases all the time, no matter what happens. That is what we are trying to teach our kids now. We are about halfway there, but by the end of the season, we will be at the full cycle of all nine guys being able to run the bases at full speed."
Ayer-Shirley sent right-hander Muse MacLaughlin to the hill against a potent Marlboro Panthers lineup. Marlboro leadoff man Ben Wright reached safely with a scorching single up the middle.
Starting pitcher Tyler Dossas took one for the team with a perfectly placed sacrifice bunt that moved Wright over to second.
Sohan Santikory bounced a 2-1 pitch to the right side of the infield that advanced Wright up 60 feet to third. A MacLaughlin curveball tailed away from catcher Jake Pedreschi and allowed Wright to dart home in a cloud of dust for the first run of the game.
MacLaughlin kept his composure and handcuffed Jake Naples on an inside fastball. Naples hit a high-chopper back to the mound, and MacLauglin snared it and fired it to first in textbook fashion.
Marlboro took a 1-0 lead into the second.
Dossas had a difficult time locating his fastball to first baseman Sean Doyle, thus resulting in a walk.
With two-on and none out, MacLaughlin attempted to steal third and was tagged out just shy of the bag for the first out of the inning.
Dossas eventually regained command of his pitches and recorded back-to-back strikeouts to retire the side. Ayer-Shirley limited Marlboro to one run on two hits in the second.
Jayce Ginnetti wrapped a single into left field and later scored on an RBI blast by Kyle Carroll. Carroll screamed a frozen rope to dead center field for a single.
MacLaughlin fanned Chris Cash and Pedreschi caught Carroll red-handed at second for the inning ending 1-2-6 double play.
Marlboro led 2-0 after two innings, but there was no quit in the kids from Ayer-Shirley. After Deklan Heinz whiffed to start the third inning, Ayer-Shirley Tournament MVP Johnny Pinard delivered.
Pinard gave the large Ayer-Shirley contingent something to cheer about when he shellacked a double into the gap in left-center field.
Baserunners were at a premium for Ayer-Shirley all day, and Pinard was gunned down in the act of stealing at third for the second out of the inning.
The Panthers batted around in the home half of the third, plating eight runs on six hits. Five of Marlboro's seven runs in the fourth came with two outs.
Girard, Naples, Sakiitory and Carroll all swatted RBIs for the Panthers in the inning. MacLaughlin thought he was out of the inning when Naples popped up to shortstop Ryan Horgan.
Horgan planted his glove on the infield and the ball appeared to drop in his glove for the third out, but the second base umpire ruled that he trapped it. Ayer-Shirley's gold medal dreams quickly went up in smoke as Carroll trotted across home plate with the 10th and deciding run.
Pinard led Ayer-Shirley, going 1-for-1 with a double and a fielder's choice. Both teams advance to the Cal Ripken State Tournament next weekend in Northbridge.
"We are moving on to the next stage," Consalvo said. "That is a tough team to beat two games in a row. We were out of gas cause a lot of these guys are from the local spring league. Four of my starting core was part of the finals. We have had one day off in the last two-and-a-half weeks. We definitely felt the schedule coming down the stretch."
According to coach Consalvo, Ayer-Shirley has no reason to hang its heads.
"Every time we play a game, the umpires come up to us and say 'I can't believe those kids played like that,'" the coach said. "That's their hard work. This team has been together for three or four years. It's a good, jelled group of kids. We will go to states and turn it back up again."