NORTHBRIDGE, Mass. -- Back in 2010 Northbridge captured the MIAA Division 2 state title, doing so with a collective mixture of timely hitting, solid defense and pitchers who threw strikes.
Fast forward to the present and Northbridge is embarking on a similar path with identical results.
With their 6-3 victory over St. Peter-Marian on Saturday, the Rams improved their record to 12-1. Having registered triumphs over two of its most challenging foes -- Auburn and the aforementioned SPM -- in a span of 24 hours, few will argue the notion that Northbridge appears primed to make another serious run towards a championship.
“This team is really starting to come together," senior outfielder/pitcher Matt Phelan said. “The intensity is there 1-to-9 in our lineup. Everyone is making the plays and doing their jobs and that is why we’ve been coming out with wins.”
Against the Guardians, the only Division 1 opponent on their schedule, the Rams came out of the starting gate on fire and were never headed. Facing SPM ace lefty Jack Riley, Northbridge plated three runs against in the first inning. A pair of run-scoring singles by Phelan and Rob Fraser were sandwiched around an RBI double off the bat of Jake Ryan.
The Guardians narrowed the gap to 3-2 in the third. With two runners on and one out, junior Nate Frederick blasted an Austin Young pitch deep to left for a triple. Young, a sophomore, avoided further trouble by retiring the next two SPM batters.
Riley (4 IP, 5 hits, 4 Ks) ran into more difficulty in the the Rams fourth. Young opened with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Mike Ferraro followed with a line single to right scoring Young. Moments later, Ferraro crossed the plate after Tyler Galimi’s grounder to third baseman John Roy was thrown away giving Northbridge a 5-2 advantage.
“You can’t give a good team like that extra runs," said SPM coach Ed Riley. “I thought we hit the ball good overall today. We just came out flat defensively. Northbridge is a good team that took it to us. Their pitcher threw strikes and put us in a position where we had to battle throughout. I thought Jack kept us in the game but he just wasn’t feeling it today."
The Guardians (5-6) got a run back in their half of the fifth but could’ve had more had it not been for the stellar defense of Phelan in center fielder. After Cam Frederick led off the frame with a bloop single, Riley and Nate Frederick followed with deep blasts to center that were run down by Phelan. Brandon O’Connor, SPM’s next batter, made sure his hit wouldn’t be caught as the junior roped a deep drive over left fielder Rich Scherer’s head for an RBI triple.
Leading by only two, and with the Guardians’ bats starting to heat up, Northbridge knew it needed to grab some extra insurance. In the bottom of the fifth, the Rams did just that, scoring a run without the benefit of a hit. Against reliever Danny Bushe, Ryan drew a one-out walk. Kyle Stanley followed with a SAC bunt to Roy, who threw Stanley out. But on the play, nobody covered third thus allowing Ryan to reach the bag safely. Bushe next walked Young to put runners on the corners. Young then attempted a delayed steal in which Bushe was called for a balk sending Ryan home to give the Rams a three-run cushion.
“We persevered today," Northbridge coach John Damagian said. “These guys have been busting their tails for us all year. They seem to rise to the level of the competition. Today we faced a Division 1 team and told the kids let’s see where we are at and they passed. These kids know who the good teams are and when they play them they get up for them."
Having pitched a couple of innings the day before, Young (5-2/3 IP, 6 hits, 3 Ks) began to tire on the hill. The right-hander was pulled after surrendering a single and a walk with two out in the sixth. Phelan came on to record the final out of the frame and set down SPM in order in the seventh to earn the save.
“We knew coming into this game that we needed to get the lead and hold the lead,” said Phelan, who plans to play football next season at St. Anselm College. “With Austin pitching the way he was that was all we needed to do.”