TOWNSEND — When a team is trying to climb the ladder, some wins are more meaningful than others.
The North Middlesex baseball team’s 2-1 victory over Leominster wasn’t pretty, but it was a win nonetheless and one the Patriots will surely take against a MidWach A program that has been a powerhouse over the years.
Justin Roberts continued his strong pitching for the Patriots, allowing one run and five hits over six innings. Matt Russell came on to earn the save with a scoreless seventh inning.
Matt Clarke led the Patriots’ offense with a pair of hits and he and Matt Noel each drove in a run.
No Leominster player had more than one hit in the contest and Rocco Daignault drove in the only run for the Blue Devils.
Roberts tossed a goose egg in the top of the first, stranding a pair of baserunners. In the bottom of the inning, Russell and Kevin Marciano drew walks against Leominster pitcher Mike Fuller. An errant pick-off attempt advanced the runners to second and third. After a strikeout, Clarke sent a fly ball to left center that was deep enough to score Russell.
Both pitchers retired the side in order in the second and Roberts pitched around a walk in the top of the third to keep the one-run lead intact.
The Patriots had a good opportunity to extend the lead in the bottom of the third, but squandered it with bad baserunning. Brandon Cole worked a two-out walk, and made it to third on Clarke’s single. But a botched stolen base attempt created a pickle, and the Blue Devils caught a break and escaped the jam unscathed.
The Blue Devils tied the game in the top of the fourth. Brice Erickson, Steven Colella and Kevin O’Connor singled to load the bases with no outs. One out later, Daignault found a hole in right center and plated Erickson, but Roberts did an outstanding job of damage control and got a strikeout and flyout to escape further damage and keep the game on even terms.
Leominster appeared primed to take the lead in the top of the fifth. Roberts helped himself by picking a runner off after a one-out walk, but the Blue Devils re-started the rally with a single and two walks to load the bases. The count on the next batter was full when Roberts induced a pop-out to end the inning.
After North Middlesex failed to score in the bottom of the fifth, Roberts worked a 1-2-3 sixth, aided by the defense of shortstop Marciano, who ranged toward the middle to take a hit away.
After being shut down for four innings, the Patriots pushed across the lead run in the bottom of the sixth. Brandon Cole drew a lead-off walk and moved to third on back-to-back bunt singles by Clarke and Skelly. Noel grounded to shortstop as Cole crossed the plate with the decisive run. The Patriots couldn’t add to the lead as runners were stranded on first and third.
Russell came on in relief and breezed through a 1-2-3 innning to seal the deal.
“The fourth inning was the key,” said North Middlesex coach Tom Bartelson. “Our defense was great and it’s exactly what we practice. It all starts with defense.”