AUBURN, Mass. -- By its own admittance, Plymouth North is not a team stockpiled with bashers up and down the lineup -- and Eagles coach Dwayne Follette will be the first one to tell you that.
What Plymouth North has reverted back to is a combination of small ball, aggressive baserunning and solid defense to register wins. All were put on display tonight as the defending Division 2 state champion Eagles scored seven runs in the sixth inning to rally back for a 9-4 non-league victory over Auburn.
“All year we have had a good pitcher on the mound and we just battle,” said Follette, whose club improves to 13-6. “Today we executed small ball which was great. We’re not crushing the ball and we’re not a great hitting team. We are solid and found a way to win tonight by laying down bunts, executing a squeeze and we were very aggressive on the base paths. We're not afraid of any situation that comes our way.
"This was a big game for us and a big game for them. We like playing each other because we both are looking to judge to see where we are at. We know we are going to have to play this style of baseball in the postseason tournament to be effective.”
With the loss, the Rockets (16-4) saw their five game win streak snapped. But through five innings, they held a 4-2 lead as starting pitcher Connor Fuller was doing an admirable job keeping the Eagles offense in check.
However, with his pitch count continuing to rise (115 pitches total), the senior lefty began to lose steam in the sixth. Fuller lasted 5-1/3 innings, allowing five hits while striking out nine. The Eagles, who were having problems catching up to Fuller’s fastball early, changed their strategy later on as they tried to force Fuller into delivering more pitches to the plate and worked executed the little things that win games.
In the decisive sixth, Plymouth North opened by putting two on with one out. Jaime Delano bounced a dribbler down the third base line for a single. On the play, in his attempt to throw out Delano, Auburn third baseman Zack Tower threw wildly to first as the ball deflected off of first baseman Mykal Diaz. Pinch runner Ben Waltuch would score on the play, coming around from second base to make it a 4-3 game. Tyler Lamonda came on in relief of Fuller.
But with runners on second and third, Pat Horgan delivered a two-run single up the middle to put the Eagles in front to stay. As it turned out, Plymouth North was just getting started.
A walk to Brian Christian put two more runners on. Leadoff batter Cody Homes then dropped down a bunt for a single. Horgan, standing on second at the time, never stopped running on the play and would score the Eagles’ sixth run. Following a steal of second by Holmes and a walk to Jamie Dougherty, Plymouth North loaded the bases.
Connor Follette, who had struck out his previous three trips to the plate, was given the sign for a squeeze. The senior executed it perfectly to score another run for the Eagles. Before this inning finally came to a close, junior David Murphy singled to left plating two more and put Plymouth North ahead by five.
“We hadn’t played a team that has put the pressure on us the way they did,” Auburn coach Eric Swedberg said. “I blame myself a little bit. When you have a senior captain you let his pitch count go to 115 which is a little high. I should have put my emotions aside but I didn't. When Connor started that sixth inning I didn’t think I was going to need anyone else. He started good but I don’t know what happened thereafter.”
Eagles senior pitcher Vinny Tavernelli, albeit not overpowering, used a mix of fastballs and a looping curve to keep the Rocket hitters off-balance. Tavernelli lasted 5 1/3 innings, giving up 7 hits before Holmes came on to shut the door the rest of the way.
These two clubs are no strangers to one another. In 2008 and 2009 they met in the Division 2 state finals. Plymouth North captured the title in 2008 while the Rockets returned the favor the following year. Since then, both teams have scheduled a regular season meeting each year and that trend is expected to continue come next season.
The Eagles jumped on Fuller for a pair of runs in the opening frame. Murphy (2 hits, 3 RBI) singled in the team's first run. Moments later, with Dougherty, who had walked, on third and Murphy on first, Follette called for a double steal which worked to perfection as Dougherty slid home to make it 2-0.
But in the bottom of the inning, Auburn answered back. Tyler Desjardins reached on a Tavernelli throwing error on a comebacker and Mike Vaitkunas singled. That set the stage for Diaz, who blasted a curve deep over the left field fence for a three-run homer putting the Rockets in front 3-2. Auburn added a solo run in the fifth on a RBI single by Tower. But the two run cushion the Rockets enjoyed would be brief as the Eagle offense exploded one inning later.
“We came out on top with a good comeback victory,” Murphy said. “We played well all-around. We came off the bus fired up to play this team because we knew how good they were. Vinny did a nice job and pitched great for us. Even when we were down we still felt comfortable and started to get the pitches we wanted to see. We were able to take advantage of what they gave us to earn this win.”