NORTH EASTON, Mass. -– Oliver Ames sent 10 hitters to the plate and scored six runs in the second inning against Franklin starter Brendon Kuzio, on the way to a 9-5 victory over the Panthers on Wednesday afternoon at Frothingham Park in Easton.
Andrew Mancini sparked the Tigers offense with three hits and three RBI, while Dave MacKinnon struck out six over five-plus innings in his first start of the season. The win improved the Oliver Ames record to 9-1 this year (all of them league games), a mark that head coach Leo Duggan, in his 27th season at the helm, was not expecting.
“If you had told me at the beginning of the year that we’d be 9-1...I don’t know...It’s great,” said Duggan. “The kids are great and they work hard.”
OA grabbed a lead in the second inning that it would not relinquish. After a leadoff walk, Brandon Gagliardi drove in Greg Cummings with a double to center. Mike Ferreira followed with an RBI single to make it 2-0. After a MacKinnon base hit, Mike McMillan drove in the third run. Andrew Mancini, the senior catcher, broke the game open with a triple to left-centerfield that scored two runs and made it 5-0.
The Tigers added one more on a double steal in the second and then tacked on a seventh run in the third on a MacKinnon sacrifice fly to right. Duggan called it the best offensive inning of the season for the Oliver Ames.
He added, “We’re usually behind people. Today was the first time that we’ve been out in front all year. We usually wait until the bottom of the fifth to start doing well. They had good swing, which we’ve been trying to stress.”
MacKinnon, who had struck out 14 of the 15 hitters he had faced in five previous relief appearances, was dominant early in the game. He struck out the side in the first inning on nine pitches, but as he got into the fifth inning he was clearly tiring and the Panthers (7-3, 6-3) started to take advantage.
Chris Roche led off the inning with a single down the leftfield line, which was followed by a base hit to center by Drew Inglesi. Catcher Stephen Shea stepped up with a run-scoring double to right center to make it 7-1 and Inglesi would come home on a wild pitch. With runners at second and third and no outs, MacKinnon was able to bear down and get the middle of the order on strikeout, a weak grounder to third, and a pop-up to the catcher.
Franklin head coach Dave Niro called that an important turning point in the game.
“We never give up, but the last couple of game we just haven’t gotten the big hit,” he noted. “We had second and third and the two, three, and four hitters coming up and got nothing out of it. We could have been right back in it.”
Despite not getting runs out of the situation, the Panthers were energized by getting on the board and in the top of the sixth went right back to work.
Andrew Dean, who replaced Neal Hart in leftfield in the fourth inning, smashed a leadoff triple to straightaway center that would have been a homerun on just about any field with a fence. Bryan Abbott, who moved from first to the mound, singled Dean home and Roche drew a walk that chased Mackinnon from the game.
“David’s the best player in the Hockomock, I don’t care what anyone says,” said Duggan. “He just got a little tired and they came back. Give Franklin credit. Most teams would have folded, but they came back.”
Brendan Welch came in to pitch and retired the next two hitters, but Santucci doubled over the head of the leftfielder to score both Abott and Roche. Both runs were charged to MacKinnon. Welch struck out pinch hitter Pat O’Reilly, but Franklin were back in the game at 7-5.
That would not last long.
MacKinnon reached on an error to start the bottom of the sixth. Two batters later, Mancini ripped a grounder down the first base line that was ruled to have just gone over the bag and made it 8-5. A wild pitch moved him to third. On a swinging third strike, Franklin’s catcher Shea thought it may have bounced and started up the first base line with the ball. It left home open and Mancini took advantage to score another insurance run.
“Physical mistakes we can handle but mental ones we can’t,” said Niro. “You know, a catcher vacating home plate, a little pop-up that we missed, a double-play ball and no one covers second base, it’s little things like that.”
Duggan was thrilled with the win and gave credit to his opponents for making it a tough game after a tough start.
“That’s still a good team; anytime you beat Franklin it’s great,” he explained. “I think the kids hit the ball pretty well today and we played pretty well. It was great that we got two runs in the bottom of the sixth. We knew we had it after that.”