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Crusaders’ execution sinks Patriots

’I feel good about where we are right now.’ – Matt LeBlanc, Groton-Dunstable baseball coach

TOWNSEND — Both the Groton-Dunstable and North Middlesex baseball teams are under new management this season, and each is looking to move up the ladder. On Monday afternoon, the teams met and Groton-Dunstable rolled to a 9-1 win, getting a solid effort across the board.

The Crusaders out-hit the Patriots only six to five in the contest, but did the little things better. They used ‘small ball’ to their advantage, stealing seven bases, in addition to pulling off a perfectly-executed squeeze bunt.

Vince Lehman survived a rocky start to earn the win, allowing one earned run and five hits over 6 1/3 innings. He mixed a tough overhand curveball with a lively fastball and struck out ten and walked two.

Derek Clement went the route for the Patriots, allowing three earned runs and six hits while striking out five and walking four. He pitched well, but was hurt by six unearned runs.

”I feel good about where we are right now,” said Groton-Dunstable coach Matt LeBlanc. “We took the field with confidence and did a good job of executing. Vince settled down on the mound and found his groove, and he and catcher Ricky Fotino did a good job of mixing the pitchers to keep the hitters off balance. Offensively, our table setters got on and we came through with some timely hits. Jim Moniz came through with a real big hit for us.”

”We made too many basic errors,” said North Middlesex coach Tom Bartelson. “Groton-Dunstable made less mistakes and that’s why they won the game.”

The Crusaders jumped on top with a pair of runs in the top of the first, led by table setters Doug Starbird (three runs scored, three stolen bases), and Chris Chenelle (two singles, two runs scored, two stolen bases). Starbird singled and stole second and moved to third on a passed ball. Chenelle walked and stole second, Starbird scoring when the throw sailed into center field. Chenelle came around to score to make it 2-0.

North Middlesex came out swinging in the bottom of the inning. Ryan Baldinelli reached on an infield single and Steve Burke reached on an error. Lehman helped his own cause by picking the runner off first base for the first out, which became even bigger when Clement ripped a run-scoring double. Billy Stecchi singled to put runners at the corners, but Lehman notched a pair of called third strikes to escape with the 2-1 lead intact.

The Crusaders padded the lead in the third. Chenelle singled with one out and moved to third when Lehman reached on an error. After Lehman stole second, Moniz came up clutch with a single up the middle to make it 4-1.

Groton-Dunstable scored two more runs in the fourth. The first run was a purist’s delight as Dan Powell walked, stole second, advanced to third when Fotino sacrificed, and scored when Steve Roundtree laid down a suicide squeeze bunt. Starbird then walked, stole second and came in to score on Chenelle’s single to make it 6-1.

Lehman allowed just singles by Rob Ordway in the fourth and Mike Cronin in the sixth as he held the Patriots at bay. He received an outstanding defensive play by third baseman Frank DiMaria, whose diving stop took a hit away from Sam McGrath in the fourth and possibly prevented a big inning.

Clement retired the side in order in both the fifth and sixth innings, but Groton-Dunstable wrapped up the scoring in the seventh with three runs. Starbird reached on an error and scored on Lehman’s double. Steve Carroll ripped an RBI double, before scoring on a wild pitch.

The Patriots tried to rally in the bottom of the seventh when Steve Burke walked and Kenny Aucoin was hit by a pitch, but Mike Fei came on to retire the final hitter of the game.

”We just couldn’t get their pitcher out of his groove,” said Bartelson. “We had some momentum going in the first inning, but the pick-off really hurt. It killed our momentum.”