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Pepperell’s exciting ride comes to a finish in state sectionals

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REGION — The great ride for the Pepperell 12-year old Little League All-Stars ended in the state sectional tournament with a pair of losses.

In their sectional opener, three Worcester Schwartz pitchers combined to pitch a no-hitter to key a 6-0 win over Pepperell.

That decision moved Pepperell into a loser’s bracket matchup with Westfield South in Westfield on Saturday and the home team used a five-run, first inning uprising, en route to a 7-2 win.

“This group of ballplayers played as a team in the truest sense of the word,” said Pepperell manager Jim Canning. “They shared batting and fielding responsibilities, and I got a genuine sense that they all were pulling for each other to do well.

“Despite today’s loss, we are extremely proud of these kids,” added Canning. “They play baseball at a high level. They are strong baseball players. They are all looking forward to making the transition to the big diamond, and more good baseball lies ahead for these boys.”

In the loss to Worcester, Pepperell just couldn’t get anything started offensively. Worcester starting pitcher Greg Tzikas (3 2/3 innings, eight strikeouts, six walks) provided some scoring chances, but came up with big pitches at timely moments. He mixed a strong fastball with a deceptive change-up curve to keep the Pepperell hitters off balance.

In the top of the first, Pepperell’s Mike Chase walked and advanced to third on a pair of wild pitches, but Tzikas picked up an inning-ending strikeout.

Worcester scored the only run they would need in the bottom of the inning against Pepperell starting pitcher Cam Gouldrup when Jimmy Smith ripped a one-out double and scored on Ron Sampson’s two-out single.

Chase, who played a superb defensive game at shortstop, came up big for the final out of the second inning and the first out of the third.

In the second, he made a diving stop of Joe Lundberg’s low bullet and fired to first for the out.

In the third, Zach O’Connor ripped a low line drive that was snagged by a diving Chase.

Worcester plated a pair of runs in the bottom of the third to extend the lead to 3-0. Quinn Moynihan singled, advanced to second on an error and scored when Smith singled and the throw in from the outfield was errant. Sean O’Farrell then executed a perfect squeeze bunt to score Smith.

Pepperell had their best chance to break the ice in the top of the fourth when Chris Canning, Andrew Jena and Nick Chapas walked. Smith came on in relief and induced a tapper back to the mound for the final out.

Worcester put the game out of reach in the fourth with three more runs, keyed by singles by T.J. Camorey, Lundberg (RBI), and Smith (RBI).

Smith retired all six hitters he faced, getting solid support from the Worcester defense, that was errorless in the game. Gouldrup hit a hard line drive to right field that was hauled down in the fifth, before Brandon Cole’s bullet into the shortstop hole to lead off the sixth was backhanded by Moynihan, who rifled a throw to first for the out. Moynihan got the final out to preserve the no-hitter.

Cole pitched a scoreless fifth inning for Pepperell, striking out the side.

Smith led Worcester with two singles, a double, two runs scored and an RBI while Sampson added a pair of singles and an RBI.

Pepperell made the long trek to Westfield on Saturday and was dealt an early knockout punch. They did show plenty of resiliency, twice bringing the tying run to the plate and hitting the ball hard in making some tough outs.

Westfield South complete game pitcher Joe Lubanski retired the side in order in the top of the first, getting a pair of quality defensive plays behind him. Shortstop Luke Zayak made a diving catch of Chase’s pop-up to lead off the game, and first baseman Noah Parker made a leaping catch of Gouldrup’s looper for the second out.

Westfield came out swinging and quickly took control of the game. Zayak led off with a double and scored on Parker’s double off the right center field fence. Karl Kober walked and Cole was summoned in relief for Pepperell. Before the inning was over, Keith Hadley’s two-run single, Anthony Pellan’s RBI double, and Jack Templeton’s run-producing single made it 5-0.

Cole settled in and was brilliant over the next three innings, retiring eight of the nine hitters he faced. The only baserunner during that span was picked off first base by Pepperell catcher Chris Canning.

After seeing their first six hitters retired, Pepperell made some noise in the top of the third. Andrew Jena led off with a single and was pinch-run for by Kyle McDermott. After a strikeout, Joshua Cushion singled, before Chase ripped a double into the left center field gap to score McDermott and move Cushion to third. Lubanski then did an outstanding job of damage control, getting a pop-out and a fly-out to avoid further damage.

Pepperell made another run in the top of the fourth. Cole singled and Chris Canning doubled to put runners on second and third with no outs. After a strikeout, Joe Tierney drove a single to score Cole and make it 5-2. Lubanski got a strikeout for the second out, but was fortunate when Cushion’s hard line drive to the right center field gap was hauled down for the final out.

Lubanski settled down nicely and retired six of the final seven hitters he faced to finish off his complete game. Over his six solid innings, he surrendered two earned runs and six hits while striking out seven and walking one.

Westfield capped the scoring with two runs in the bottom of the fifth when Zayak singled and scored on Parker’s long home run.

Cole did a great job of keeping Pepperell within striking distance, allowing three earned runs and six hits while striking out 11 over 4 2/3 innings. Chris Canning came on to strike out the only batter he faced.

Parker led Westfield South with a double, home run, two runs scored and three runs-batted-in. Zayak added a single, double and two runs scored while Hadley chipped in with two singles, two RBI and a run scored.

“I thought Brandon Cole did a terrific job on the mound,” said Canning. “He mixed up his pitches and he had Westfield off balance for the most part. He has a good future as a pitcher. Westfield South is a solid team and they outplayed us today. We wish them well.

“Pepperell baseball is alive and well,” added Canning. “Our Senior Division (15 and 16-year olds) won their district division title too. We have our 8’s, 10’s, and 11’s playing summer baseball. Our fall instructional league is about a month away and the spring program involves well over 400 players.”

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