GROTON — The Quabbin baseball team held a lead for much of the game against MidWach B rival Groton-Dunstable, but the Panthers struggled to put the game away because of runners left on base.
It appeared that the visitors would survive their lack of timely hitting, until the bottom of the seventh inning when Groton-Dunstable rallied for three runs to walk off with a thrilling 6-5 win.
Chris Lowney earned the victory for the Crusaders with three strong innings of relief, allowing no runs and one hit while striking out two and walking none. His outstanding work kept the game within striking distance.
Groton-Dunstable starting pitcher Alex Dhionis wriggled out of a nasty jam in the top of the first after Dylan Stimson led off the game with a single, and Dan Whigham followed with a double, putting runners on second and third with no outs. But Dhionis bore down, getting a strikeout, fly-out and ground-out to keep the game scoreless.
The Panthers gift-wrapped a run in the bottom of the first as the Crusaders jumped on top. Ryan Sheehan reached on an error, moved to second on Mike Keating’s sacrifice bunt, stole third and scored on another error.
In the bottom of the second, the Crusaders appeared primed to add to the lead when Ryan Vultaggio reached on an error, Josh Acaba laid down a sacrifice bunt, and Connor O’Brien singled and stole second to put runners on second and third, but Quabbin pitcher M.J. Briggs picked up back-to-back strikeouts to keep it a one-run game.
The Panthers took the lead with two runs in the third. Stimson led off with a double and scored on Whigham’s single. After Ben St. Jean singled, Briggs plated Whigham with a ground-out. Quabbin threatened to add more, but Dhionis stranded the bases loaded by inducing a pop-out and notching a strikeout.
Quabbin added a run in the fourth on back-to-back doubles by Stimson and Whigham to make it 3-1. Groton-Dunstable first baseman Keating prevented further damage with an over-the-shoulder catch of a pop-up.
With one out in the bottom of the inning, Vultaggio got that run back with a line drive home run over the left center field fence.
Quabbin answered right back with a pair of runs. Bill Robinson singled and Joe Reed was hit by a pitch. Lowney came on in relief and retired two of the next three hitters, but with two outs and the bases loaded Whigham came through with his fourth hit of the game, a two-run double to make it 5-2.
Briggs tossed a shutdown inning in the bottom of the fifth, Lowney retired the side in order in the top of the sixth, and Groton-Dunstable sliced a run off the lead in the bottom of the inning. With one out, Adam Kmetz singled, but was erased at second when John Flanagan grounded into a fielder’s choice. Vultaggio singled and Dan Tomany was hit by a pitch to load the bases. O’Brien sent a sharp ground ball up the middle that was stopped by a diving Whigham as Flanagan scored, but Whigham’s throw to the plate was in time to nail Vultaggio trying to score from second.
Lowney tossed a crucial goose egg in the top of the seventh and the Crusaders came to bat trailing by two runs. Briggs retired the first hitter, but wouldn’t retire anyone else. Doug Smith got things started with a pinch-hit single. Sheehan walked and Keating singled to load the bases. Kmetz drew the Crusaders to within 5-4 with a single, before Flanagan capped the winning uprising with a ringing two-run double off the right field fence.
Vultaggio led the Crusaders with a single and a home run while Keating, Kmetz and O’Brien each added two singles.
Whigham turned in a superb two-way effort for the Panthers, finishing 4-4 with a single, three doubles, a run scored and four runs-batted-in offensively. Stimson had a single, two doubles and two runs scored out of the lead-off slot.