BILLERICA, Mass. -- The ebb and flow in this one changed nearly as much as the swirling winds gusting across Hall of Fame Field. Saturday's contest between Malden Catholic and Billerica had as many momentum shifts as it did busts. Opportunities, on both sides, were seized and lost in an instant.
Yet in the end, the Lancers were able to take advantage of a questionable balk call which would lead to a pair of ninth inning runs en route to a 4-2 victory.
With the game deadlocked through eight innings, Indians reliever Kyle Murphy began the ninth by issuing back-to-back walks to Austin Batchelor and Steve Passatempo. With pinch-hitter Dan DiMare at the plate, and showing bunt, Murphy spun around and faked a throw to second base. The junior, who is already committed to Northeastern University, was immediately charged with a balk for buckling his knee, advancing both runners into scoring position.
DiMare then proceeded to lift a soft single to right, plating Batchelor with the go-ahead run. Ian Steckel (2 hits) followed that up with a hard single to right to put MC ahead by a pair. Murphy was able to get out of the frame without further damage. But a two-run lead at this juncture appeared safe in many people's eyes, except for Billerica who thought differently.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Indians would load the bases against relief pitcher Zach Coles with only one out. But the 220-pound senior righty managed to tight-rope his way out of danger by getting Brian Doherty to foul out on a nice over the shoulder catch by first baseman Passatempo and get Brad Fisher to ground out to secure the win.
"It was an up and down game between two good teams," said Lancers head coach Pat Driscoll, his club now evening its record to 4-4. "Billerica is a great team but I was proud of my guys today. They were very resilient. They kept working and it eventually paid off for us. Some guys who hadn't gotten much playing time this year stepped in and did a great job."
MC got a serviceable outing from starting pitcher Dan Marini. The righthander kept the offensive-prone Indians off-balance by locating his fastball and breaking pitches extremely well. Marini, a junior, surrendered nine hits in 7 1/3 innings while fanning seven.
"Marini did a great job," Driscoll said. "He really mixed it up. Billerica is a great hitting team and he just did a good job of keeping them off-balanced enough and allowing them to hit the ball in play and allowing us to make the plays."
MC jumped out to a 1-0 lead in its half of the second. Steckel took starting pitcher Rob Gambale's first offering deep to left for a double. After moving to third, Steckel scored on Russell Libby's ground out. Billerica threatened in its half of the frame. Singles by Adam Mahrez and Dylan McDonough put two on with none out.
After Marini struckout Kevin Faria, Cam Climo followed with a shot to deep left. Aided by the strong winds, the ball continued to slice away from Steckel in left field. But junior had the poise to stay with it, making the catch just in front of the foul pole. Mahrez, thinking it was a base hit all the way, never stopped running and was forced out trying to get back to second base.
Two innings later the Lancers got to Gambale (7 IP, 4 hits, 8 Ks) for another run. Passatempo singled. Two outs later, Marini smashed a drive high off the right field fence, that missed a home run by a foot, that plated Passatempo to make it 2-0.
The Indians answered in the bottom half of the frame as they finally began to solve Marini. University of Maine commit Chris Murphy opened the inning by lining a double to left. With Doherty in to pinch run, he would advance to third on a ground out.
McDonough next lined a single to center putting Billerica on the board. Faria followed with another double and Gambale walked to load the bases. After McDonough scored on a pass ball, Marini was able to work himself out of the jam, keeping the game tied.
"A couple of things we could've done better today and might've had a different outcome," Indians head coach Joe Higgins said. "We played a good team and feel we can play with anybody. We had our chances but you have to tip your cap to Malden Catholic today. Now we need to rebound because we have a tough game against Lowell on Tuesday.
"We have a great bunch of guys on this team. We have good pitching and we can also hit. Today was just one of those games where we just didn't get that break we needed."
Over the next four innings things remained even. Billerica had a chance to win it in its half of the eighth after loading the bases but Coles, who entered with two on and one out, came away unscathed. One inning later, MC had its opportunity to move in front and didn't disappoint after coming up with some timely hits with runners on base.
"It was a really back-and-forth game," said Steckel. "Everyone played well and Marini pitched great. We've been in a lot of close games and we've gotten used it by now. Games like this are only going to help us later in the season.
"Beating Billerica is huge for us after losing two straight. Coming back the way we did today is a really good feeling and now we hope that continues."