NEWTON Mass. -- The first six innings of Friday afternoon's highly-touted meeting between Wellesley and Newton North was anything but characteristic, especially when you consider the level of talent between the two programs.
Unstable starting pitching, mental block baserunning and the inability to produce with runners on base all proved infectious early on by both teams. It had gotten to a point when you began to wonder if either club was willing to take charge instead tripping over itself.
In the seventh, the answer came as Newton North tore up script. The Tigers scored three times in the frame en route to a 5-2 over the Raiders in a battle between Bay State Conference divisional leaders.
With the victory, Newton North, tops in the Carey Division, remain undefeated with a mark of 8-0. Herget Division front-runner Wellesley falls to 7-4.
The decisive inning for the Tigers began harmlessly enough. Right-hander reliever Connor Russell had been summoned to start the frame, replacing Nir Liebenthal, who tight-roped his way through the first six innings, allowing only two runs on four hits but walking six. Liebenthal, a senior, escaped trouble a couple of times after leaving the bases loaded, allowing just the two runs.
Liebenthal left after the sixth with the game knotted 2-2. He gave way to Russell. But the senior immediately developed control issues. Of the the first four batters Russell faced to begin the inning, he walked three of them to load the bases with one out.
With Mike Barbieri at the plate, the junior fended off seven pitches before wrapping a single to right field which plated two runs and give Newton North a 4-2 lead. Russell's day was done at that point as Raiders head coach Rob Kane went to Owen Wohl. Christian Cox was the first to face the hard-throwing righty and managed to lay down a squeeze bunt which scored the Tigers' third run of the frame.
"Mike just battled up there at the plate during that at bat," said veteran Newton North head coach Joe Siciliano. "He's embraced the idea of wanting to get a piece of the ball and continued to fight off pitches. He knows he is a good hitter and he kept fouling pitches off before coming through with that big hit."
Newton North starting pitcher Dylan Sbordone put forth a decent performance during his six innings on the hill. The senior allowed two runs on four hits while fanning 10. But Sbordone wasn't as consistent in his location as he would've like.
In his six innings, Sbordone tossed 100 pitches, including 29 in the fourth. He also received some much-needed help from his catcher Alex Joyce. The senior picked off two Raider baserunners at first to snuff out any threat. But, like Liebenthal, Sbordone still was able to keep the Tigers in this contest heading into the late innings.
"Both starting pitches were able to get out of jams in this one," Siciliano said. "Both weren't all that sharp today but both were mentally tough. It was good to see that from both."
Sbordone gave way to Theo Resnick to start the seventh. If the junior was a mystery prior to this game, that is no longer the case now as Wellesley can certainly attest. Resnick threw a hard fastball but it was his 12-to-6 curve which baffled the Raider batters. In Resnick's three innings of work, he gave up no hits and struck out three to pick up the win.
"Coming into a tied game is never easy but getting that huge hit from Mike and then the well-executed squeeze bunt from Christian everything seemed to be off of my back from that point moving forward," Resnick said. "Wellesley is a tough team so this was a big win for us.
"For me personally, I love pressure situations so I had no problem with it when I came into this game. My curve ball happened to be working very well today so Alex and I went decided to go with it a lot today."
Wellesley struck first in this one as it jumped on Sbordone for a run in the first. A lead-off triple by Jack Dolan was followed up by Peter Stabnick's double to center, giving the Raiders a 1-0 lead. It marked the first time this season that Newton North had trailed in a game.
The deficit would be brief however as the Tigers stormed back with a pair of runs in their half of the second. With two on, John Little came up big by lining a double to left-centerfield, sending both runners home for a 2-1 lead.
Things remained that way until the Wellesley fourth. After Joyce nailed his second runner standing to far off the base, it appeared as though the Tigers would have an easy inning to work with. Hardly. With two out, an error by Little at second base on Andrew Lindquist's ground ball kept Wellesley's inning alive.
Sbordone walked John Wilson before surrendering a single to to Ross Brannigan to load the bases. Sbordone couldn't escape his dilemma as he issued a free pass to Dolan which forced in Lindquist from third to tie things at 2-2. It stayed that way until the Tigers were able to bust out in the seventh to secure the victory, stay unbeaten and remains one of the top programs state-wide.
"We walked 10 of their batters today which you cannot do," Kane said. "Also our baserunners need to do a better job being on their toes because we know their catcher is going to throw behind us and we ended up getting picked off twice. We have a lot to look forward to on this team but we still need to fix the present."