LOWELL, Mass. -- As teams get deeper and deeper into the postseason, their margin for error becomes thinner and thinner. One bad inning, one hit, even one bad pitch can be the difference between winning and losing.
In the Division 1 Eastern Mass. Final against Norwood, Andover’s bad inning came in the first of the game.
Its starting pitcher, Reid Bryant, struggled to find the plate and was removed from the game after 0.1 innings. He gave up a double, a walk, and a hit batsman to start the game. John Sheehan grounded to third to give Norwood the early lead. It held on to win 2-1 for its first EMass title since 1943.
Sam Bennett came on in relief and gave Andover 6.2 innings, but the team just could not muster any offense Tuesday at LaLacheur Park.
“That pitching change got us going because not only is the pitcher rattled, but the whole team is rattled,” said Norwood winning pitcher John Galvin. “They’re thinking what’s next, so that got us going.”
It was the team’s first time playing in the EMass title game since 1991.
“We returned one starter from last year and four from the whole team,” said Norwood coach Kevin Igoe. “It took 20 games to figure out where the right pieces went. Once we started hitting and believing, the rest is history.”
Galvin went wire-to-wire for the Mustangs, throwing 92 pitches over seven innings, striking out seven batters while walking none. He retired the last 18 batters he faced and only allowed one runner beyond second base all game.
Coming into the game, Norwood’s scouting report on Andover was that the team loved to hit fastballs, so it decided a steady diet of breaking pitches and change-ups were in order.
“I thought my curveball was working well,” said Galvin. “My change-up was a little off, but I don’t throw it too much. I was throwing it when I was ahead, so I kind of got confidence in it.”
The Mustangs scored its second run in the third inning partially thanks to a ground ball going underneath Andover shortstop Gabriel Hernandez’s glove. John Sheehan reached base and stole second. He tagged up on a fly ball to center and dove head first into the third base bag barely ahead of Tim Awiszus’ throw.
He scored on a passed ball. Galvin did the rest of the work from there.
“I felt good today coming in, going out there and shutting them down,” he said after the game. “Once I was able to find my placement, get my pitches down, and keep them off the bases, I got the confidence up.”
He set the table as the team’s leadoff hitter, going 4-for-4 at the plate on top of his dominant pitching performance.
“It was actually good to get my bat going because I’ve been struggling lately at the plate,” he said. “To go 4-for-4 really got me going on the mound. The main thing is to stay focused. Don’t get too high, stay level.”
Andover manufactured its only run of the game in the second after a well-executed hit-and-run allowed EJ Perry to go from first to third. He scored when he and Jack Cox went for the tried and true double steal with runners on first and third. Norwood catcher Kevin Hines threw down to second and Perry was able to slip in around a tag for the Warriors’ only run of the game.
Norwood will play Leominster Saturday for the Division 1 State Championship. Leominster defeated Springfield Cathedral 12-2 Tuesday to advance to the title game.
Leominster is a team that is playing with a chip on its shoulder ever since it didn't get the Division 1A “Super 8” tournament nomination it felt like it deserved. All the Blue Devils have done since is run through the Central Mass. bracket and defeat the Western Mass. champion with ease.
That, plus Norwood peaking at the right time, should create a fun and interesting dynamic when the two teams play Saturday at Holy Cross in Worcester.