By Matt Stewart
LUNENBURG — The momentum of a strong pool-play campaign is carrying over for Leominster National.
After Townsend-Ashby made a strong statement in the first inning of Friday’s Stacey Bradley playoff game, National’s pitching went into lockdown mode, refusing to yield another run for the rest of the game. The potent Leominster bats came around as well, posting 10 runs in the final two innings, as top-seeded National defeated No. 9 Townsend, 15-5, at McNally Field.
National, which remains undefeated at 11-0, advances to the next round of the single-elimination tournament, while Townsend concludes its season at 3-8-1.
“Our pitching has been carrying us all year,” Leominster National manager Steve Richard said. “We’re lucky to have eight kids return from last year’s team; six of those kids are really strong pitchers that just throw strikes. Townsend played with a lot of heart with only eight kids and stayed in it until the fourth inning, where their pitching fell off and we were able to capitalize.”
It was a strong performance from National’s relievers, as three pitchers combined to allow only two hits. Jack Richard entered in the first inning, allowing two inherited runs to score, but flipped a switch from there. Richard only faced three batters each in the second and third innings, striking out the side in the third.
Evan McCarthy took to the mound in the fourth and retired the side in order in his two innings of work, striking out the side in the fourth. Nathan Melanson closed out the game in the sixth, allowing two runners to reach, but none to cross the plate.
Offensively, Jake Richard went 4-for-4 with three RBIs, including a triple and two doubles. Leadoff hitter Kyle Rodgers heated up as the game progressed with a 2-for-4, four-RBI effort.
The bottom of the National order played an important role, as the last hitter in the lineup, Thomas Gossen, went 2-for-3, and No. 9 hitter Nicholas Ewing reached twice on walks.
Leominster National found itself trailing 5-3 heading into the bottom of the third inning thanks to a five-run first inning for Townsend. Jake Richard got the ball rolling when he reached on a one-out double, then advanced to third on a stolen base. The power-hitting McCarthy doubled to left field to plate Richard next, which cut the deficit to one. Three batters later, Melanson drove in the tying run on a fielder’s choice.
With the game tied 5-5 in the bottom of the fourth, the bottom three in the lineup set the tone for a big inning. Ewing and Jonathan Raymond reached on walks, then Gossen delivered an infield single to load the bases. Leadoff hitter Rodgers plated two on a single up the middle of the infield, giving National its first lead of the game.
Christopher Pompei issued an RBI groundout to first and Richard tripled to plate his team’s ninth run. After a walk put runners on the corners, Nicholas Garcia reached on a fielder’s choice to hit the five-run maximum, making it 10-5.
National tacked on five more in the fifth to put the game out of reach. Melanson connected on a sacrifice, Rodgers plated two on a double, and Pompei and Richard each had RBI singles.
Townsend’s Mark Thomas (2-for-4, 2 RBI) connected on an RBI double and an RBI single and also scored on an error as part of a five-run first inning. Dylan Maillet and Bryce Latham each had bases-loaded walks.
“Leominster let up 34 runs in 10 games, so they’ve got great pitching,” Townsend manager Gary Donia said. “In the first inning, they had been off for a week and their pitchers might have been a little bit rusty. We were patient and got runs, but couldn’t do it after that.”
A Jake Richard RBI double, a bases-loaded walk to Aaron Forgues and a bases-loaded hit batsman for Melanson accounted for National’s three-run effort in the bottom half of the first.