NORTHBRIDGE, Mass. -- The way this contest was being played out, you had to figure a dramatic finish was waiting in the wings.
In a game filled with timely hitting on both sides, Northbridge junior Mike Ferraro delivered the biggest one of all at a most opportune time Friday afternoon.
In a tie game, with one out and Austin Young representing the winning run at second base in the bottom of the seventh inning, Ferraro drove an 0-2 pitch to right field for a single that plated Young and give the Rams an 8-7 triumph over SWCL rival Auburn.
“I was actually looking curve ball because (Rockets pitcher Tyler Lamonda) had thrown me one on the previous pitch," Ferraro said. “The next one he threw me was an outside fastball so I just tried to put it in play and was able to get enough of it for a single. This game just kept going back-and-forth. It was very intense but certainly a lot of fun.”
The win improves Northbridge to 11-1, as it completes a series sweep over the Rockets (10-3), whom it defeated last month in the final of the Rocket Classic. Earlier in the week the Rams qualified for the post season for a 21st consecutive time.
“We fought our way through this thing,” Rams coach John Demagian said. “We got some big hits today. These kids work their butts off so I’m really happy for them.”
As expected between these two state juggernauts, this was a see-saw affair from the get-go.
Auburn jumped out to a 2-0 first inning lead on Zack Tower’s two out, two-run double. But the Rams answered in the bottom of the frame. With two runners on, Tower, playing third base, fielded a ground ball but threw wildly to second in his attempts for the force out. The ball sailed into right field easily scoring Tyler Galimi, who singled. Moments later senior Matt Niejadlik scored from third as part of a double steal.
Northbridge (13 hits) went up 4-2 the following inning. Lamonda opened things by plunking Rob Fraser. Two outs later, Galimi, a junior, poked a single to left field. Fraser scored from second after left fielder Jason Vrusho’s throw took a funny hop off the infield grass that rolled to the back stop. Taking second on the play, Galimi scored moments later on Niejadlik’s line single to right. Once again, it appeared as though there would be a close play at the plate, but Drew Goodrich’s throw hit the lip of the grass just in front of catcher Zach Clifford and changed direction prior to Galimi sliding across.
“We had a couple of things happen to us that were out of our control," said Rockets coach Eric Swedberg. “I felt we had two guys dead at home that inning but the ball hits the lip of the infield both times and bounces to the back stop."
Auburn got a run back in the third. Tyler Desjardins doubled deep to center off of Rams starting pitcher Brian Carroll and later scored on a fly out. Northbridge was able to re-gained its two-run cushion in the fourth with two out. Niejadlik walked and took second on a pass ball. One out later, the senior trotted home on Jake Ryan’s single off of reliever Mike Vaitkunas.
Against a quality opponent like Auburn, no lead can be considered safe. Like Northbridge, the Rockets have solid hitters up and down its lineup. It showed in the fifth after scoring a pair to even things at 5-5. With two runners in scoring position, both crossed the plate following DJ Scavone’s ground single to left.
But in the bottom half of the inning it was the Rams’ turn at the plate. With a pair of base runners on, Galimi belted a two-run single to right allowing Northbridge to move ahead 7-5.
“We always know facing Auburn it’s going to be a tough game,” said Galimi, who finished 3-for-4 with 3 RBI. “It’s always good to come out with a win. It gives us a lot of confidence to beat this team every year.”
The lead would prove to be short short-lived however. In the top of the sixth, Auburn put two runners on with two out. Senior Joe Fahey followed by stroking a single to right off of Young, who replaced Carroll, scoring both and knotting things up at 7 apiece.
“Our guys were locked in and hit the ball on the nose today,” said Swedberg, his team banging out 13 hits. “Today we focused on doing our present job and the task at hand. We weren’t focusing so much on the score. That was our philosophy coming in.”
The Rockets saw a golden opportunity to jump ahead in the top of the seventh fall by the wayside. After retiring the first two batters, Young ran into problems after issuing a pair of singles followed by a four pitch walk. But the sophomore righty tight-roped his way out of danger by inducing Vrusho to pop out on the first pitch he saw to squander the threat.
In the bottom of the frame however, the Rams managed to capitalized on their opportunity. Young led things off with a single and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. Ferraro next delivered his game-winning hit to set off a wild celebration once Young touched home.
“Auburn is a good team and I’m sure we will face them again (in the postseason),” said Demagian. “We can hit the ball. We certainly practice it enough. These kids have a lot of confidence in themselves right now. There is a lot of energy coming from that dug out.”