LOWELL, Mass. -- Victor Mendez was on in relief for Lawrence High School Friday trying to halt the Acton-Boxborough offense that had taken a two-run lead over the Lancers in the top of the ninth.
With one out in the inning and runners on first and second, Devin Santilli hit a chopper to third which seemed to be the second out of the inning. However, both Mendez and Edwin Brito charged the ball, leaving no one to cover third, making all the runners safe.
It was that kind of a frustrating ending to the Division 1 North baseball tournament for Lawrence. After trading the lead in the eighth inning, A-B earned a 6-3 victory behind a four-run ninth inning.
The Colonials move on to the Division 1 North final Saturday against Lincoln-Sudbury.
Junior Vasquez was almost untouchable on the mound for Lawrence until the later innings. The senior had nine strikeouts in eight innings and rarely found himself in jams until the ninth. Even in the third, when A-B had runners on second and third with two outs, he induced a fly ball, getting his team out of the inning.
While the A-B bats were quiet, it was the defense that changed the momentum of the game. After A-B pitcher Ryan McDonald surrendered two walks to start the sixth inning, he found himself faced with runners on second and third after a botched pickoff attempt at second sent the ball into center, allowing the runners to advance. He was able to bear down and get David Quezada to fly out to first for the first out of the inning.
Then, his infield bailed him out on a Hector Perez grounder to second. A-B coach Patrick Grucela had pulled the infield in, which allowed Billy Jackman to field the ball cleanly and fire it to his catcher Brian Bowler in time to tag out Edwin Brito, making it the second out of the inning. The next batter, Anthony Rodriguez, flied to right, keeping it a two-run game.
“That was huge for us but there was nothing special,” said Grucela. “It was just a baseball play with bringing the infield in and [Jackman] made a heck of a play out of it.”
McDonald felt the momentum gained from that defensive stand helped carry over into the later innings and was part of the reason for his team’s comeback.
“In the next inning we got them to go 1-2-3 and we struck out all three batters and from then on we just had the momentum,” he said.
McDonald pitched 6 2/3innings, recording six strikeouts while surrendering three walks and five hits. It was the kind of outing Grucela was looking for from him after he threw 140 in the team’s 3-0 victory over Lowell earlier in the Division 1 playoffs. He was relieved by Chris Sirois in the seventh inning, who gave up only one run over his 2 1/3 innings of work.
Vasquez got help early when Juan Ventura lead off the game with a triple to left-centerfield. A sacrifice fly by Brito plated the first run of the game for Lawrence, and A-B was immediately fighting from behind.
They tallied another run in the third when Ventura singled home Darwin Brito, who had previously advanced two bases on a failed pickoff move by McDonald sent the ball into right field.
“I gave up those first two runs kind of based on my pitch selection,” said McDonald. “I was throwing mostly fastballs and that team is a great hitting team and I wasn’t aware that they could hit the fastball as well as they could. So around the fourth inning I started using my curveball and off-speed pitches more and that definitely kept them off-balance more and definitely lead to more success for our team.”
The Colonials will look to carry the momentum from Friday into Saturday when it gets back on the field, and this time plays for a championship.
“I definitely think this game carries over [to Saturday],” said McDonald. “Everyone on the team feels confident and right now we’re just going out and playing baseball. We’re taking it one step and having fun.”