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PEPPERELL — It has long been said, especially in football, that the toughest thing to do is beat a good team three times in a season.

On Sunday night, the Pepperell Patriots proved that the saying is also true in baseball. After losing twice in the regular season in MacIntosh Majors 70 action to the Shirley Hawks, Pepperell saved its best performance for last. The Patriots rallied for four runs in the bottom of the sixth to pull out a dramatic 6-5 victory in semifinals action.

It didn’t take long, three pitches to be exact, for Shirley to strike first. On a 1-1 pitch, lead-off hitter A.J. Torres drove a fastball to straight away centerfield, easily clearing the fence to make it a 1-0. Luke Sargent followed up the homerun with a single before stealing second, but was eventually caught in a rundown after a groundout for the second out of the inning. Pepperell starter Kasey Griffiths got another ground out to end the inning and keep it a one-run game.

On the hill for the Hawks was Vinny Eramo, who got some defensive help in the bottom of the first. After a strikeout, Danny Abbott attempted a bunt that was popped up in front of the plate. Sargent was there to make a great diving catch from his catcher’s spot for the second out. John Bell was then hit by a pitch before stealing second and taking third on a wild pitch, but Eramo stranded him there, recording an inning ending punch-out.

After Shirley went 1-2-3 in the top of the second, the Patriots threatened to get on the board in their half of the frame. With one out, Kevin Stinson singled and Bryce Winch followed with a walk. A double steal moved both runners into scoring position, but Eramo bore down, needing just seven pitches to pick up a pair of strikeouts to escape the jam.

The Hawks doubled their advantage in the third without the benefit of a hit. Cole Casto drew a one out walk and stole second. On the next pitch, Casto broke for third, stealing it successfully. The throw went into left field, allowing Casto to score, giving Shirley a 2-0 lead.

Eramo stranded another runner in scoring position but striking out the side in the third and the Hawks added two more runs to pad their lead in the fourth. With two outs, Sargent ripped a double down the rightfield line and scored on an Eramo single into left centerfield. A stolen base moved Eramo into scoring position and Connor Brown brought him home with a single to right, pushing the Shirley edge to 4-0.

Brown came on in relief for the Hawks in the bottom of the inning and Pepperell came up with a pair of runs. With one out, John Bell drew a walk, stole second and third and scored on an errant throw to give the Patriots their first run of the day. Liam Scanlon walked and took third on a Griffiths single before coming home to score on a wild pitch. Brown settled down, sandwiching a pair of strikeouts around a walk to limit the damage to two runs at 4-2.

In the top of the fifth, Shirley responded with a single run. Tyler Hebert got things started with a single before advancing to second on a walk by Mick Mitrano. An attempted pick-off throw went into centerfield, allowing Hebert to come around and score. Bell, who came on in relief to start the inning, wiggled his way out of the threat. The lanky right-hander recorded a pair of strikeouts before a walk to Casto put runners on the corners, but Bell picked off the runner at first to keep it a 5-2 game.

Down by three entering the bottom of the sixth, Pepperell used patience and timely hitting to put together a game-winning rally. Charlie Loucraft got things rolling with a single before taking second a sacrifice bunt by Jo Stinson. A stolen base and wild pitch allowed Loucraft to score and make it a two-run game. Danny Abbott and Bell then drew consecutive walks before a wild pitch put them both in scoring position. Scanlon then pushed a single through the right side, scoring both runners to tie the game. A pair of wild pitches moved Scanlon to third before on a full count, a third wild pitch allowed him to score the winning run, giving the Patriots an improbable victory to advantage to championship.

Scanlon paced the Pepperell offense with a single, walk, two runs scored and 2 RBI. Bell had two walks, was hit by a pitch, scored two runs and picked up the win on the mound by going two innings, allowing one run on one hit, while walking two and striking out five.

Sargent led Hawks with a double, single and run scored. Eramo was excellent on the hill, picking up a no-decision, allowing one hit, walking three and striking out eight while adding a single, run scored and an RBI.

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