NORWOOD, Mass. –- More often than not this year, Norwood has ridden on the shoulders of senior Kenny Michael to lead them to a victory on the mound.
But on a night where Michael, by his own admission, struggled with his accuracy at times, his teammates helped pick him up, giving the Mustangs a 9-7 victory over defending Division 1 state champion Xaverian.
Michael, a future college player at Division 2 Southern New Hampshire, pitched six innings, giving up six earned runs. Joe Rydzewski, who picked up the win, got the ball in the top of the seventh and was lights-out for the rest of the game, giving up just two hits in the last three innings to hold off a Xaverian squad looking to make one last charge.
“We knew we needed three [outs], and we knew Joe fit in the second slot," Norwood coach Kevin Igoe said. "He’s a horse, we’ve developed the off speed—his change-up and his curve. The energy from him is great. He’s a great ballplayer."
Michael also had high praises for his teammate.
"I didn’t have my stuff tonight," Michael said. "For him to come in and do that, especially for a junior, it take a lot of 'you know what' -— a lot of it. For him to come out and do that, I’m happy for him, I’m happy for our team. That was just a great win."
Rourke Flynn hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the first to give the Mustangs an early 2-0 lead, but that lead was short lived. Xaverian starting pitcher Alex Person, also a Southern New Hampshire University commit, hit a two-run homer of his own to lift the Hawks to a 3-2 lead in the third. In the fifth, following a leadoff double by Person, the Hawks plated two more runs to extend the lead to 7-2 going into the bottom of the fifth.
Person appeared to be cruising through another inning, but Anthony Perriello’s hustle on a two-out infield single extended an inning that both teams’ coaches agreed was the potential turning point in the game. Michael came up next and hit a two-run homer to help ignite some energy into his team and home crowd.
“That hustle play by Perriello is huge," Igoe said. "If he dogs it down the line Kenny never gets up."
Xaverian coach Gerry Lambert seconded Igoe’s comments.
“I thought he was going to be safe anyways, we had it ruled as an infield hit," Lambert said. "The kid beat it out though, and Michael hits the home run—that’s a huge play, even though at the time we still had a three run lead. If we can get out of that inning with a zero, I think the rest of the game momentum-wise is different. But that’s a championship-caliber team executing when they absolutely had to have it.”
Anthony Delmonaco, who got the start at DH and scored two runs of his own, hit a two-run single in the bottom of the seventh to give the Mustangs their first lead since the third inning. He later came around to score on a sacrifice to bring the lead to 9-7.
Rydzewski slammed the door shut from there.
“We put [Delmonaco] in there and he got two big hits," Igoe said. "He’s been that way all year long -- he’s a great athlete and a composed hitter. He doesn’t get flustered, it’s a great matchup when he goes up against a kid like Person."
Lambert said he was impressed by Norwood’s intensity and willingness to fight back late in the game and take the lead for good.
“We had them on the ropes in the fourth and fifth innings, and they fought us," Lambert said. "They got back off the mat and got on top, re-established momentum and they took it from us. That’s why they won the game: they had the mental toughness to handle that punch in the mouth and bounce back from the adversity and be able to get through."
Michael smirked when asked about how much it means to beat the defending state champion twice in five days—mentioning that the only team they would want to beat more than Xaverian is archrival Walpole.
“They’re a good team, they always show up in the playoffs, and they came out and played us hard--but we fought back," Michael said. "Like we always do, we always fight back in the end—we never give up.”