BARRE – Eventually one side of a pitchers’ duel has to crack, and it was North Middlesex that survived in the late innings Tuesday.
The visitors took advantage of some walks, driving in a pair of runs in the seventh, as seventh-seeded North Middlesex secured the Montachusett Senior Babe Ruth title over third-seeded Barre, 3-1, in Game 3 of the best-of-three championship series at Quabbin Regional High School.
North Middlesex finished the regular season with a disappointing record of 4-9, but won all but one of its playoff games, with the lone loss coming in Game 1 of the title series.
“We lost some close games during the regular season,” North Middlesex manager Ken Brown said. “But we’re a loose team. From the get-go we made the determination that this was going to be fun. They used to joke that it was all about getting to the playoffs, and they meant that and won it.”
Hurler Andrew Jena pitched a complete-game gem, allowing one earned run and two walks, and tallying six strikeouts. Barre’s only hit, a single to right field, came from its leadoff man to start the bottom of the first.
“(Jena) just got stronger and stronger as the game went on,” Brown said. “He was in Rio for the last 10 days on a mission trip for his church; he landed this morning. He was a little rusty from the start, but then found his stride and found the zone. He only allowed one hit, how do you beat that?”
North Middlesex put four runners in scoring position through the first five innings, but couldn’t solve Barre starter Ben St. Jean, who pitched a complete-game four-hitter, walking two, hitting two batters and striking out five.
Trailing 1-0, the visitors finally found a solution in the sixth inning. Matt Brown reached on an error, then stole second base. Billy Burns sacrificed Brown over to third on the next play for the inning’s second out.
Jena helped his own cause next when he drilled a liner off the pitcher’s glove. The Barre second baseman hustled to get to the ball in time, then made an errant throw to first, which allowed the tying run to score.
With one out in the seventh, North Middlesex’s Sam Ineson and Dan Considine drew walks before Zack Ryan came through with a single to left field, bringing in the go-ahead run.
A hit-batsman then loaded the bases, and No. 9 hitter Nick Barry drilled a hit to left field to bring home an insurance run.
“I think St. Jean got a little tired in the last inning,” Ken Brown said. “We were able scrap together a couple of hits.”
Barre had four baserunners in the final four innings, three of whom reached on leadoff errors. Barre put the leadoff hitter on with an error to start the bottom of the seventh, but Jena fanned the next batter, induced a harmless groundout and got the last batter swinging to end the game.
Coming into the championship tilt, North Middlesex had scored in the first inning of each of its playoff games, but Barre turned the tables on that stat.
Jake Kowal started the bottom of the first with a leadoff single to right field, before a walk put him in scoring position. Kyle Judd sacrificed him to third, and a fielder’s choice from Ryley Beaupre put Barre on the board at 1-0.
“We hit the ball, but we didn’t put enough in play,” Barre manager Scott Whitney said. “We didn’t have the opportunity to play any small ball. … It’s too bad, because I wanted this town to have a championship from these kids, because this is probably the best crew I’ve had in years.”