HINGHAM, Mass. -— In arguably Hingham’s biggest spot of the season, senior Cody Clifford stood calm at the plate.
The Harbormen had just tied the game at four and had a runner on third with two outs in the bottom of the sixth against Plymouth North in Tuesday’s quarterfinals.
With the Eagles’ infield in to try and cut down the potential go-ahead run, Clifford worked the count full and anticipated a fastball over the heart of the plate, knowing Plymouth North pitcher Kyle Mann couldn’t afford to put another runner on base.
Clifford guessed right and drove Mann’s heater through the infield and into right field to give Hingham its only lead of the game; one it held onto in the top of the seventh as John Carlson set down the Eagles in order to grab a 5-4 victory at Cronin Field.
The fourth-seeded Harbormen will play No. 1 seed Nauset in the semifinals of the Division 2 South Tournament, Thursday night at Adams Field in Quincy.
Fifth-seed Plymouth North took a 4-3 lead in the top of the sixth after Ryan Moskos willed the Eagles back on top after stealing second, third and finally home to send the Plymouth North dugout into a frenzy. While on third, Moskos capitalized on Carlson being left-handed and going through the windup, allowing him to take a big lead and jolt for the plate as Carlson’s delivery was too slow and Moskos slid ahead of the tag to grab the lead.
But the Hingham bats finally came to life. After Austin Irvin and David Hutchins singled to put runners on the corners with one out, Plymouth North coach Dwayne Follette pulled starter Kenny Drew (5-1/3 innings, five runs, four earned, seven hits) in favor of the freshman Mann.
Mann’s first pitch slipped through his catcher’s legs, scoring the runner from third and allowing Brett Tivnan — who pinch ran for Hutchins at first -— to scamper all the way to third, forcing the infield in, which allowed Clifford’s single to squirt through.
“We’re a pretty good offensive team,” Hingham coach Frank Niles said. “So we kept at it and ran the bases a little bit and I think we thought we could do it, so that’s a big part.”
But had it not been for Carlson, the Harbormen might have been out of this one early. Hingham starter Billy Boynton only lasted a third of an inning after the Eagles bats roped three hits and hit two balls in the hole that Hingham’s second baseman and shortstop couldn’t handle, leading to three unearned runs and an early exit for Boynton.
Carlson came in with the bases loaded and struck out the next two batters to retire the side and hold Plymouth North to just three. Carlson allowed only one run in his 6-2/3 innings of relief, striking out eight while surrendering just three hits and walking three.
“He’s not afraid of anything,” Niles said of Carlson. “He’s a hockey guy and he stood tall today and he got us out of that first inning.”
Carlson, who started the game in left field before replacing Boynton, mixed in his fastball and consistently threw his curveball for strikes, and said his team didn’t do their part to help out Boynton.
“We didn’t support him too much in the field, so I came in and did what I had to do — hit my spots and got the job done,” Carlson said.
The Harbormen used a three-run third to tie the score. Stephan White and Joe Leahy led off the frame with back-to-back singles, and after a double steal put both runners in scoring position, Eddie Bowler drove home White with a groundout to second.
One batter later, Leahy took off from second to try and steal third, and when the throw got past the Eagles third baseman, Leahy raced on home to bring Hingham within one at 3-2. Then, Irvin belted a solo home run over the fence in right field to knot the score at three.