LEOMINSTER -- A tenth-inning balk by Leominster reliever Brandon Radowicz brought in Zach Ryan with the winning run, as North Middlesex's Senior Babe Ruth team knocked off the Leominster Senators, 3-2, in a three-hour-long Montachusett Senior Babe Ruth affair at McLaughlin Park's Pin Cannavino Field Wednesday evening.
The win lifts the seventh-seeded Pats to 6-9 and they'll now go to the best-of-3 championship round against Quabbin. Tonight's game will be played in Barre.
"It's been a fun season, and this has been a loose team all year," said NM coach Ken Brown. "We came into the tournament in second-to-last place, and we came in to see what we could do. We're making stuff happens."
The Senators' season closes at 10-3-2.
Ryan led off the tenth with a walk, stealing second on Radowicz's first pitch to speedy second baseman Mike Wolfgang, who bunted back to Radowicz on the next pitch. Yet no one covered first base, putting runners at first and third with no outs.
That brought up Casey MacFarlane, who was told to execute a suicide squeeze on the second pitch of his plate appearance. The first pitch was a strike.
Then, as Radowicz went into the wind-up, Ryan broke for home.
Radowicz stopped and came off the mound to chase Ryan home. Yet even though he tossed to Chris Piper for the tag, Ryan kept running and stepped on home plate. The umpires conferred and adjudged the balk call, nullifying the out and crediting Ryan with the run.
"That hurt," said Leominster assistant Steve Boudreau, stepping in for Mark Lever. "We should have been able to compensate for that though."
The balk spoiled a relatively strong relief outing by Radowicz, who pitched five innings, striking out 11 Pats hitters out of a possible 15 outs. He walked three and gave up only two hits.
North Middlesex reliever Billy Burns, who was credited with the win, gave up two two-out hits by Noah Milliard and Jordan Mays to give the Senators life in the bottom of the tenth, struck out Xavier Viera to end it.
"He did a great job of going right at them," Brown said of the effort by Burns, a thin pitcher with a lot of movement on his curveball. "He was pretty unflappable.
"Give Leominster credit, they battled and had two well-stroked hits."
The Senators truly had nothing going for them entering the bottom of the seventh inning. To that point, Leominster had only five hits, but the Senators had run themselves out of two potential run-scoring innings.
In addition, Leominster had left nine runners on base in the first six frames, not getting the hit to drive in the runs to begin with.
But with runners on second and third with two out, Piper delivered a huge triple that the NM centerfielder had misjudged as it approached, falling behind him and rolling toward the fence.
"Chris did a great job for us behind the plate and in the clutch for us," Boudreau said. "He kept us in the game. The baseball gods were not good to us all game, and Chris had a nice shot stretching a double into a triple.
"Our bats tonight were just not there, and our base-running, we made a few mistakes. But give credit to North Middlesex, they did a great job. Their pitching did very well; we couldn't get the bat on them."
Rob Tucci and Radowicz had scored on the play that forced free baseball.
Noah Milliard had worked the count full, but he could not get the run home as he fanned against Sam Ineson, who had struck out 11 ASH hitters in NM's win on Sunday.
"The boys showed character there, as we had made some miscues in the field," Brown said. "What I was happiest about is that it was easy to come in and hang your head and find a way to lose the game, but we found a way to make plays to keep runners from advancing."
A Leominster error yielded the first North Middlesex run in the top of the first.
With Burns on first with one out, Mark Canning's two-hopper through the box wasn't fielded by either the Leominster middle infielders -- even though both were practically on top of the ball and didn't get leather on it. The miscue moved Burns to third, who then scored on Chris Canning's sac fly to right.
The score stayed that way until the fifth, as NM rallied with two outs against Leominster pitcher T.J. Landon, the grandson of the late -- and legendary -- Fitchburg football coach Marco Landon.
"T.J. did an outstanding job," Boudreau said. "He kept us in the game."
Nick Revanis singled to left before Ineson blooped a single to shallow right center. Revanis hustled to third.
Then, with Nick Barry at the plate, a wild pitch brought Revanis in to make it 2-0.