CHELMSFORD, Mass. -- Norm Walsh thoroughly understands the importance of depth. The longtime BC High head coach is cognizant of the fact that you can never have enough of it when the situation calls for it.
On Friday, Walsh summoned two players from his deep bench who, in turn, performed remarkably in helping lift the Eagles to a thrilling 4-2 extra-inning victory over Chelmsford at Ayotte Field.
With his starter Zach Dunphy having already thrown 75 pitches in just 2 2/3 innings, and the season still in its early-stages, Walsh needed save his senior’s arm for the stretch run. Senior reliever Dan Cobban was brought in with his club trailing 2-1. For the remainder of the afternoon, Cobban was nothing short of brilliant in his 6-1/3 innings, allowing no hits and striking out five. The righty did his part, keeping BC High within striking distance until the offense flurried late.
“I just went out there throwing strikes and I knew my team could come back and get this,” said Cobban. “As long as I kept them in the game I knew we could win it. We really needed this after our loss to St. John’s Prep (6-5 on Wednesday). We had to get a bounce-back win and what better way to get it.”
After the Lions plated a pair of runs against Dunphy, Cobban came in and stifled Chelmsford the rest of the way with a mix of fastballs, curves and change ups.
“Cobban was just unbelievable,” Walsh said. “He completely shut them down by hitting his spots and keeping the ball down for the most part. He was simply outstanding.”
In spite of Cobban’s heroics on the mound, the Eagles were clinging to life support, down by a run with two out and no one on in the seventh inning. But good teams always seem to find way to come through and BC High (6-1) did just that.
Chelmsford pitcher Andrew Knightly, getting his first start of the year on the hill, was equally impressive. The senior limited the Eagles to a solo run on just two hits through his first six innings of work.
But in the seventh things changed dramatically. BC High senior Tommy Landry led off the frame by singling to left. Walsh had Nick Valicenti pinch-run for Landry. Valicenti advanced to second on a ground out and, following a botched pickoff attempt, took off for third. Lions centerfielder Tommy Bishop made a perfect throw to third baseman Conor Barry, who appeared to apply the tag on Valicenti just before the junior reached base. However, umpires called Valicenti safe.
Still in control, Knightly induced Sean Webster to pop out on the infield for the second out. Hoping for a miracle, Walsh opted to send out junior Andrew Jaehnig from the bench to pinch hit. The strategy worked to perfection as Jaehnig drove a Knightly outside fastball to right for a single to score Valicenti and even things at 2-2.
Knightly recorded the next out to avoid any further damage. But after Chelmsford failed to score in the bottom of the frame, Knightly, showing signs of fatigue, came out for the eighth and promptly issued a walk to No. 9 batter Nick Petchell. Lions head coach Mike O’Keefe made the decision to bring relief pitcher Joe St. Hilaire in.
“Andrew pitched a fabulous game for us today,” said O’Keefe, his team dropping to 5-3. “He’s a true pitcher who uses all of his pitches and changes speeds. He’s not an overly intimidating presence on the mound but once you get up to the plate you realize how quick he is. He never beats himself. Every time he pitches he gives you a battle. After today he deserves to get some more starts for us. I’m very proud of the performance he gave us.”
After Petchell was thrown out at second on a steal attempt, Hilaire surrendered a double to Dan Dougherty. But the senior managed to escape further trouble by and got out of the inning unscathed.
In the top of the ninth, however, he wasn’t as fortunate. Hilaire set down the Eagles’ first two batters with ease before Jaehnig singled to keep the inning alive. Luke Catarius followed with a long double to left plating Jaehnig and give the Eagles a 3-2 advantage. Billy Mitchell, pinch-running for Catarius, would later came around to score on Dougherty’s ground single to right.
“After our loss to St. John’s Prep on Wednesday it took us a while to get our act in gear," said Walsh. “Their pitcher did a very nice job keeping us off-balanced. It was getting somewhat frustrating but we were able to hang in there. Besides Cobban, Jaehnig was also unbelievable today. His hit ties it for us and later on he scores the winning run."
In the bottom of the inning, Cobban allowed a lead off walk before punching out the next three Lions batters to earn the victory.
Ryan Tufts put BC High ahead 1-0 in the first after stroking a Knightly fastball over the left field wall. But Chelmsford knotted things in the bottom of the inning courtesy of an opposite field RBI single from Mike Rosa. The Lions would take the lead in the third. Mike DeDonato tripled and scored moments later after Eagles left fielder Mike Roberts failed to corral Russell Olive’s hard liner.
“Give BC High credit,” O’Keefe said. “They’re a very good team and very well-coached. We hung with them to the end but it just didn’t work our way today. BC High will be in contention throughout the year but I truly believe we proved that we can play with them.”