Chelmsford tops Methuen in controversy-marred semifinal

LOWELL, Mass. -– While his teammates were taking the field inside LeLacheur Park on Saturday, Jack Hansbury was outside in the parking lot changing into his uniform.

A few hours later, it was Hansbury who played hero for the Lions, coming up with what would prove to be the game winning RBI in Chelmsford’s 7-5 victory over Methuen in the Division 1 North semifinal.

Hansbury, along with junior captain Quinn Cooney, arrived about 20 minutes after the start of the game because of a previously scheduled SAT Subject Test that they took at Central Catholic. Hansbury, who was DH’ing for starting pitcher Daylon Thompson, also had a base hit in the fourth inning. He later came around to score the Lions’ third run of the game.

“He had a great game, solid at-bats every single time up. He’s a big part of our lineup, I was pretty happy to see the big guy running down the steps early in the day,” Chelmsford coach Mike O’Keefe said of Hansbury.

“I may have had to speed a little bit to get there,” Hansbury said with a laugh.

Thompson was extremely efficient on the mound for the Lions, throwing 5-plus innings and giving no runs on four hits. He often resembled something of an escape artist early in the game, forcing Methuen to strand runners on first and second in each of the first three innings. In the fourth, Methuen managed to load the bases before Thompson slammed the door shut with two routine groundouts.

“Daylon Thompson was just outstanding in the start,” O’Keefe said. “He hasn’t pitched in a little while, we gave him the ball and we thought he could do a good job and he was outstanding today. I couldn’t be happier for an individual than I am for Daylon.”

“It took a full effort, it was two evenly matched teams and that’s definitely a very well-coached team over there. They just scrap and scrap and scrap and I like to think that we do the same thing on our side. We got a couple extra bounces today that went our way. Methuen had a great season, but our guys picked each other up.”

Much was made leading up the game about the MIAA’s unwillingness to change the game because it was scheduled at the same time as SATs. On Friday, the Eagle-Tribune reported that both teams were threatening to forfeit if the game was not moved. Methuen coach Eric Cyr had some harsh criticisms of the MIAA's decision in the article, most notably telling the paper "I think [money] is the only thing they care about."

News of the forfeit threat made rounds in the Boston news cycle Friday afternoon, including afternoon drive-time sports talk radio, with heavy criticisms levied against the MIAA. Following Saturday's game, MIAA associate executive director Richard Pearson spoke at length with ESPNBoston.com to respond to the criticisms, saying the accusations that the decision compromised the ideal of a student-athlete is "very far from the truth".

In a silent protest of sorts, both teams put jerseys down on the infield grass during the national anthems. Seven jerseys lay on the grass in total -- three from Methuen and four from Chelmsford, besides Cooney and Hansbury.

For O’Keefe, the decision to bring the uniforms of the players who were unable to play in the game was a simple one. Once the game began, though, O’Keefe said all the controversy leading up to the game became irrelevant.

“It really wasn’t hard," he said. "Leading up to it, it was challenging. But once the decision was made...We had a meeting this morning and said ‘Guys, it is what it is at this point in time. We are not going to use it as an excuse, we carry more than nine players and everybody on that team practices very hard.’

"There are some kids who had an opportunity to step up, and they absolutely did. They’re high school kids. Once the game starts, they just want to play baseball. I think that’s easier for them than it is for the adults to be honest. Once the game started it was just a baseball game for them.”

After pulling out to a 4-0 lead though, Chelmsford nearly watched their lead quickly disappear in sixth inning -– a frame in which they watched Methuen take a 5-4 lead thanks in part to six walks from the Lions’ pitchers. To the surprise of few, it was Methuen captain Evan Lacroix who came up with their biggest hit of the game, clearing the bases with a three-run double to bring the deficit down to one.

Two batters later, Jonathan Pierce had a two-run double to give the Rangers the lead going into the seventh inning.

Methuen coach Eric Cyr made the decision to go with Lacroix on the mound in the seventh inning after a leadoff walk was surrendered by reliever Daniel Aziz. After the Lions loaded the bases on Lacroix, senior Eric Rose drove in the game-tying run. Hansbury earned the lead back for good for Chelmsford in the next at bat, giving the Lions a 6-5 lead that would be extended to 7-5 after Michael Koechlin’s sacrifice.

For a team that has played in plenty of close games this year, Chelmsford never showed any sort of panic:

“We have no other option, it’s the game of baseball and we’ve been in a lot of situations like this year, unfortunately,” O’Keefe said. “But it seems to work out for us because we’ve been in those situations. We knew we could come back, we had the heart of our order coming up, we just had to have good at-bats. The kids had good at-bats, they didn’t expand the strike zone, and then we had some key hits and key sacrifice flies when we needed it.”

Cyr said he had no regrets about the decision, saying that if he could go back he would make the same decision to go to Lacroix on the mound in the seventh.

“I wouldn’t have done it any other way," he said. "I could have kept Aziz in, Aziz has done the job for us all year. I can go to bed at night and sleep well knowing we went down with our best -– going with Lacroix, our captain, on the hill. We went down with our best.”

Chelmsford advances to take on MVC foe Andover for the Division 1 North sectional championship, Sunday at 6 P.M. at Fraser Field in Lynn.