TOWNSEND — In a game where runs were at a premium, North Middlesex’s pitching prevailed, propelling them to a 4-2 win over the visiting Groton-Dunstable Crusaders. Matt Clarke shut down the Crusaders with a complete-game effort, allowing one earned run, striking out seven and only allowing three walks.
“We relied on our number one, Matt Clarke today.” said North Middlesex coach Tom Bartelson. “His fastball was not working well so he resorted to his change-up and curveball and they were really dancing. He had very good command.”
Not to be outdone, Crusaders senior pitcher Mike Fotino also had an impressive outing, coming off the heels of a 6 2/3 shutout innings against Hudson. In this contest he went six innings, allowing four earned runs, while only walking two, and fanning seven Patriots.
“Both pitchers really threw well today, both had identical lines.” said Groton-Dunstable coach Matt LeBlanc. ” Both defenses played well; it just came down to hitting.”
The hurlers set the tone early, both striking out two hitters and holding the opponents off the board.
The Crusaders jumped on top in the top of the second. Senior captain Marco diGrazia smacked a one-out double to left center. One out later, Paul Calderan came up clutch with a sinking line drive single that made it 1-0.
Fotino averted trouble in the bottom of the frame. After a deep fly out to rightfield, Justin Roberts drew a walk. Clarke aided his cause with a shot to rightfield that fell for a double and put runners at second and third with only one out. LeBlanc, sensing that runs would be hard to come by, brought the infield in. And the gamble paid off as shortstop Travis Shaw picked a hard hit grounder, looked back the runner at third and gunned the man down at first for the out. Fotino retired the next Patriot with a ground ball to Dano Ierardi at second to end the inning.
Both pitches tossed goose eggs in the third, Clarke getting a strikeout and pop-out to strand Ierardi at second base, before Fotino set the side down in order, including a pair of strikeouts, to cruise to his 10th straight scoreless inning to start the season.
That all changed in the bottom of the fourth when the Patriots exploded to grab the advantage. A leadoff walk followed by a double down the third base line perched Patriots at second and third. The infield was drawn in and Shaw stepped up again, making a great backhanded stab and nabbing the runner at the plate, assisted by a terrific tag by diGrazia. But the Patriots persisted as Clarke delivered a run with a sacrifice fly. Matt Russell then kept the inning alive by beating out a grounder, which became crucial when Tyler Goulding launched a long drive to deep left to score two runs to put the Patriots on top 3-1.
“We just had one really bad inning that did us in.” lamented LeBlanc.
Clarke went back to work, pitching past a lead-off single to preserve the Patriot lead.
In the bottom of the inning, the Patriots manufactured an insurance run. Mike Tenore drew a two-out walk and advanced to third on Matt Canning’s single. Then a delayed steal paid dividends for the Patriots as Canning drew a throw down to second, and was able to scamper around long enough for Tenore to score from third, which swelled the Patriots lead to 4-1.
“We were not swinging the bats real well, so we had to manufacture some runs.” said Bartelson. “We had worked on the delayed steal in practice it was good to see it work well in the game.”
The top of the sixth the Crusaders would show some fight. After a pop out to start the inning, Vultaggio laced a single into rightfield. Then he was able to swipe second. Fotino helped his own cause, hitting a single into left and received some more help when the ball skipped under the leftfielder’s legs allowing Fotino to advance to third. diGrazia walked to put runners on the corners with only one down. The rally was killed when Clarke struck out the next batter and got the next Crusader to lift a lazy fly ball to left for the final out. It would be the theme for the Groton-Dunstable bats as they stranded six runners on the day.
“We couldn’t get the timely hit,” said LeBlanc. “We had some hits, but none of them were with runners in scoring position, or they were with two outs and no one on.”
After Fotino set down the Patriots in the sixth, Clarke went out for the seventh inning to finish off what he started. He induced a pop out to second to start. John Flannagan would breathe some life into the Crusaders, hitting a single up the middle. But, it would be short-lived success as Clarke struck out the next batter on a change on the outer half of the plate, and induced a line out to second base to end the game.
“Our bats were still a little anemic today,” said Bartleson. “We are waiting for our key hitters to get some multiple hit games. But it definitely was a good win.”
Russell played well for the Patriots going 2-for-3, as did Canning who went two for three with a double. Clarke went 1-for-2 with an RBI to go along with his masterful pitching performance. Goulding drove in two runs with his fourth inning double.
For the Crusaders Calderan went 2-for-3 with an RBI, and Fotino drove home the other run.