By Matt Stewart
LITTLETON — Although opportunities presented themselves for Lunenburg, timely hits were hard to come by.
The Blue Knights had nine runners reach safely, but ASH pitcher Steve Smith ensured that none of them would see home, as the Titans went on to blank Lunenburg, 5-0, in the opening game of the best-of-three Montachusett Senior Babe Ruth championship series Monday at Littleton High School.
The series resumes Tuesday at Marshall Park, with Lunenburg’s back against the wall. ASH — comprised of athletes from Ayer, Shirley, Harvard and Littleton — can clinch the title with a victory.
“Smith was a terrific pitcher,” Lunenburg coach Jim Basile said. “He kept us off-balance, and with what little he gave us with a walk here and there, we just couldn’t come up with the big hit. We had three singles, and you’re not going to beat a kid like that with three singles.”
Smith kept Lunenburg on its heels all game, pitching six innings of shutout baseball, allowing three hits and striking out 11. The Knights, who drew six walks, had two runners on with one out in three innings. But in every instance, Smith recorded back-to-back outs with at least one strikeout.
“(Smith’s) not an overpowering pitcher,” ASH coach Lou Macri said. “But he’s smart and throws a decent curveball and gets them swinging. They looked like they were trying to get deep into the count, and he did throw 97 pitches. They did what they had to do, but he came up big on that third strike a lot of times.”
Lunenburg starter Matt Tetreault held strong on the mound after a rocky start. Tetreault allowed three runs in the first inning, but entered the fifth only having given up only two hits. Fatigue appeared to affect Tetreault in the fifth, as ASH tacked on two insurance runs.
“Tetreault settled down and kept us in the game,” Basile said. “We just couldn’t get that big hit with men on base. Hopefully we come out and hit like we normally hit tomorrow. We just have to bring the bats.”
The Titans wasted no time going to work as they got some production flowing in the bottom of the first. Ryan Pichel reached on an error to start things off, then stole second base. Smith then flied out to right, pushing Pichel to third, and Peter Kowles delivers a deep sacrifice fly to left field to put ASH on top, 1-0.
Tetreault then walked back-to-back batters and a batter to load the bases. Luke Snyder then cashed in on a single to right field, plating David Oslin and Kyle Macri and put the Titans up 3-0.
Things remained relatively quiet from there. Lunenburg had eight baserunners reach during innings two through five, and ASH had a pair of runners on in third, but neither team was able to capitalize.
That all changed in the bottom of the fifth inning. Leadoff hitter Pichel singled to start and Smith helped his own cause in a big way when he blasted an RBI triple to deep left field. Kowles followed that up with his second sacrifice fly to give the Titans a commanding 5-0 lead.
“That’s Smith’s sixth triple of the year,” Macri said. “That’s what he does, he hits line drives. He got robbed in center field (in the second), which would have another double or a triple.”
Cam Landers played solid defensively at third for Lunenburg, having a hand in all three outs during the third inning. Jeff Kerr made a diving catch in center field to rob Smith of the hit in the second inning.
Kowles pitched one inning in relief for ASH, retiring the side in order in the seventh.