BRAINTREE, Mass. -– With a strong arm blessed enough to earn a commitment next season to UMass, it’s not often that baserunners test Braintree catcher Gino LaRossa, one of the state’s best backstops.
In fact, when Newton North coach Joe Siciliano put on the steal sign in the top of the 10th inning for his fastest player, Ben Porter, it was the first time all game they had made an attempt. But Porter himself is regarded for his speed on the basepaths, honed during sprint events during indoor track and field season in the winter, enough of a calculated risk to give it a shot.
Porter came in cleanly at second, then scored two at bats later when junior Tom Joyce flared a singled up the middle, for the go-ahead run in an eventual 2-1 win over the Wamps in a battle between two Top 10 stalwarts in Massachusetts.
“It feels good being able to say I won it for the team, but I didn’t really win it,” said Joyce, who went 1-for-5 on the afternoon. “It came down to pitching and defense. It was an all-around team win, it felt good.”
The Tigers (4-0) indeed got solid production from two pitchers to keep the heavy Wamps (4-1) bats at bay. Senior lefthander Teddy Rodliff had a no-hitter going through the first five innings, going seven strong with three strikeouts, four hits allowed and an unearned run. Senior rightnander Dylan Sbordone gave the Tigers three innings of relief, allowing just one hit and fanning three.
“The big thing with him is mental toughness,” Siciliano said of Rodliff. “He’s got that idea, and he’s got that confidence. Plus, he’s got great disposition for a pitcher.”
Senior catcher Alex Joyce (1 for 2, RBI, 2 BB) gave the Tigers the initial lead of the game in the top of the first inning, taking a fastball to right field for an RBI double that scored Porter (2 for 2, 2 BB, 2 runs). North had arguably its biggest scoring chance of the day thwarted in the fourth inning, when Braintree third baseman Connor Columbus stabbed a grounder to the left side of the infield and made an unassisted tag at third.
The Wamps evened it up in the sixth thanks to some heady base running from Matt Bickford. The senior beat out a 4-6-3 double play throw to first, then moved to second on a base hit from Columbus. In the next at bat, Rodliff’s pickoff attempt of Bickford sailed into the outfield, and Bickford made it all the way home to tie it at 1.
But similar woes with runners in scoring position did not evade the Wamps either. In arguably their best chance of the afternoon, they juiced the bases in the bottom of the seventh with one out, only to come up empty with back-to-back putouts to first base.
“We’re a pretty good defensive team, I don’t think we showed it today, but we just gotta get some more timely hitting,” Wamps head coach Bill O’Connell said.
In the second at bat of the top of the 10th, Porter drew a walk on seven pitches, then beat La Rossa’s pickoff throw to take second, and moved to third after John Little reached on an error.
“I was happy coach gave me the sign, because I wanted to get that winning run,” Porter said.
Tom Joyce then sent Porter home with his shot up the middle off a fastball from Bickford.
“At that point, I’m letting Tom Joyce swing away,” Siliciano said. “He and his brother are bright baseball coaches, you don’t have to coach them much.”
Southpaw sui generis: “Jeez!” Siciliano yelled out to Rodloff as he gathered his belongings from the visiting dugout, continuing with a laugh, “Two years ago here, you threw one pitch and got the win. So, we owe you, you know? Baseball, it all evens out.”
It was around that time, too, that Siciliano tried with no avail to fix Rodloff’s delivery after watching him sidearm infield throws from first base during a practice. After watching four more conventional throws sail to the backstop, Siciliano threw up his hands and said, “Forget about it, do whatever you want”.
Lefties, they’re all the same, in that they are all different.
Rodloff’s pitching motion and delivery is among the more unique styles one will see this spring, one that has carefully been crafted over a decade. Rodloff says he initially started out trying to throw submarine style (coincidentally, around the same time famous knuckle-scraping submariner Chad Bradford threw relief for the Red Sox), but switched to a sidearm very early in his little league career.
Adding a twist to his fastball-slurve repertoire is his unorthodox follow-through, in which his back foot drags and finishes kicking out to the side, instead of coming along for the ride like more traditional pitching motions.
“I started out with more of an underhand, but my dad told me I was going to blow out my arm by age 10,” Rodloff said with a laugh. “It just sort of works for me, so I go with it.
“It just felt right. Being a lefty is weird enough, but my dad told me to get any sort of advantage you can against the other team. People don’t see that every day, so that was my way of getting ahead.”
For O’Connell, who typically bats several lefties, Rudloff’s unique matchup problem influenced his decision to counter with a batting order comprised solely of righthanded bats.
“He was tough,” O’Connell said. “He had a fastball, and then a little giddy-up fastball. It seemed like he was chasing his fastball speeds, had a two-seamer going then a little slider. He was tough. He’s about as good as you’re going to see.”