SHREWSBURY, Mass. -- After watching his starter and middle reliever get banged around the ball park, St. John’s of Shrewsbury head coach Charlie Eppinger needed to find some immediate resolve before things got out of hand Wednesday afternoon.
Eppinger called upon lefty Micah Cummins hoping he could find a way to silence New Bedford’s loud bats. The senior did just that. Entering in the sixth inning, Cummins, relying heavily on his off-speed stuff, while mixing in a fastball every now and then, managed to hold the Whalers to just one run over the final four innings, and then watch as the Pioneers plated two runs in the bottom of the ninth to pull out a wild 12-11 victory at Pioneer Field.
"(New Bedford) was hitting the fast ball regularly through the first five innings," said Cummins, who allowed just five singles. "I ended up coming in and throwing my off-speed pitches for strikes whether it was a curve ball or my change-up. My curve ball was working well today and kind of kept them off-balanced. They’re a great hitting team and one of the best-coached teams we’ve seen this year."
In a game scripted for a dramatic finish, St. John’s delivered on that promise. Trailing 11-10 going into the final frame, Eppinger inserted freshman Jake Rosen to pinch hit to begin things. Ironically, Rosen had been playing in the junior varsity game across the street before being brought over mid-way through after Owen Shea suffered a right ankle sprain in the second inning.
Facing Whaler senior reliever Mike Rapoza, Rosen belted the first pitch he saw for a double to left. Cummins followed by singling to center putting runners at the corners. With no outs, Dominic Sullivan-Souza spelled Rapoza and had the dubious task to try and silence the comeback bid. Instead, the junior served up a wild pitch allowing Rosen to sprint home with tying run. Moments later Cam Murphy line a game-winning single to right giving the Pioneers their fifth straight victory and improve to 7-1.
"New Bedford is a great team and we always have to be ready to play them,” Eppinger said. "We’ve had as much trouble against them than any other team on our schedule. There were a million things that happened today but two things stand out. Cummings coming in an changing speeds on them which they had trouble adjusting to was one.
"The other was a freshman in his first varsity at bat hitting a double to start our rally. That’s a pretty big spot to be in for a freshman but that double really got us fired up and at that moment we believed we would win this game."
St. John’s got on the board first in its half of the third against New Bedford starting pitcher Dave Pepin by scoring three times. With two runners on, Tom Petry brought both in with a double to left. Petry later scored on a throwing error -- one of seven committed by the Whalers.
But New Bedford responded in its next at bats thanks to Pepin’s three-run, opposite field blast over the right field fence to tie matters 3-3. The Pioneers went back on top 5-3 in the bottom half of the fourth. After Cummins reached on an error and took second, PJ Browne followed with a ground-rule double. Moments later Browne trotted home courtesy of a dropped fly ball.
"This has been our M.O. all season," said Whalers head coach John Seed. "We hit but we don’t field or we play good defense and pitch well but we don’t hit. It’s frustrating. We’re just going to have to continue to learn as we move along. That’s all we can do."
New Bedford, now 2-7, enjoyed one of its most-productive innings of the year in the fifth. With Pioneer starter Ben White struggling with his control throughout, the senior was forced to groove some pitches down the middle in an effort to locate the strike zone.
When he did, New Bedford made him pay. Before White’s five-inning outing was complete, he surrendered a two-run round tripper to Rapoza and a solo shot to Jonathan Moreas in succession. With Kendall Pomeroy now on for White, the junior gave up two more runs on a wild pitch and a SAC fly to put the Whalers in front 8-5.
St. John’s scratched a single run home in its half of the fifth before New Bedford tacked on two more runs in the sixth on a Rapoza run-scoring single and a Pioneer error.
The way this game was transpiring, there were few who believed a four run lead was considered safe. The Pioneers proved so after closing the margin to10-9 after a three-run sixth which saw them take advantage of back-to-back Whaler errors followed up by RBIs from Scott Manea and Byrne.
New Bedford would go back up by a pair in the seventh on C.J. Rivera’s RBI single, before the Pioneers put a run across on a Rapoza wild pitch making it 11-10. It stayed that way until the melodramatics of the Pioneer ninth which finally put an end to this three hour-plus tilt.
"I’m proud of our guys for sticking together and coming back to win this," said Eppinger. "When one of your horses doesn’t quite have it on the mound or one of your better relievers can’t find the strike zone then its time for somebody else to step up. That is where depth becomes so important. It was great to have a tough test like this one today and it is great to pass it."