SHIRLEY — In an era of amazing offensive numbers, the fans in attendance Monday night in Shirley were treated to an old-fashioned pitcher’s duel. Runs were at a premium as the offenses combined for only seven hits, keyed by outstanding efforts from starters Jared Kroening of Ayer-Shirley-Harvard and Jon Dwelly of Oakmont. It was the Titans who came out on top as they rallied for two runs in the bottom of the seventh to claim a 3-2 victory.
“I really couldn’t be happier with how we played tonight,” said Ayer-Shirley-Harvard coach Dennis Shivo. “We have a great group of kids who never gave up and were able to come up with a big rally at the end. I thought Jared was outstanding on the hill tonight and the defense was solid.”
In the top of the first, the Spartans put together a threat. With one out, Chris Laplant was hit by a pitch and stole second, but Kroening came back to record a strikeout for the second out of the inning. Dwelly then reached on an error put runners on the corners but a fly out to left ended the inning.
Kroening got an inning-ending double play in top of the second and the Titans’ offense put something together in the home half of inning. Brian Babcock walked and stole second before Kroening walked with one out. A double steal put runners on second and third and Dwelly uncorked a wild pitch. Babcock tried to score but catcher Matt Cotton hit Dwelly with a perfect throw at the plate to cut the run down. Dwelly then recorded a strikeout, stranding a runner on third and keeping it scoreless through two innings of play.
While Dwelly found a groove, retiring 10 of the next 12 batters he faced, Kroening was trying to dodge trouble. In the third, Jason Andeholm doubled down the left field line with one out. Kroening then recorded a strikeout and groundout to strand the runner. In the following inning, Kroening did not escape unscathed.
Dwelly drew a one-out walk and Nick Gravino was hit by a pitch. After a wild pitch advanced both runners into scoring position, Cotton drilled a two-run double. He stole third but Kroening dug deep and picked up a strikeout to keep it a 2-0 game.
After the bumpy fourth inning, Kroening settled down nicely. The tall right-hander retired nine in a row, including consecutive 1-2-3 innings in the fifth and sixth to keep Ayer-Shirley-Harvard within striking distance. It was in the bottom of the sixth that the Titans’ offense finally came alive.
A one out single by Evan Gagnon was followed by a walk to Brian Babcock and a double steal that put runners on second and third. Derek Dutcher then lifted a pop up into shallow right field that was caught by the second baseman. Gagnon showed great speed, scoring from third on the 140-foot out to make it 2-1. Kroening followed with a walk and stolen base to put two runners in scoring position, but Dwelly induced an inning-ending groundout to keep the lead intact.
Cotton had a one-out singled and stole second for the Spartans in the top of the seventh, but Kroening got a pair of fly outs to leave him there, setting the stage for the winning rally in the bottom of the inning.
James Comerford reached on an error, moved to second on a groundout, and scored the tying run on Ryan Carroll’s single. Carroll alertly advanced to second on the throw to the plate and then scored the winner on Kyle Montemagno’s clutch single, as the Titans improved to 5-3 for the season.
Kroening earned the win, allowing two earned runs and three hits while striking out six and walking two.