NORTH CHELMSFORD, Mass. -- If you don't think Chelmsford has had this date circled for the last 10 months, then you guessed wrong.
The recurring haunts of a year ago have never departed the Lions. Three times last year they succumbed to Merrimack Valley Conference rival Andover -- twice during the regular season and then, certainly the most painful of all, in the Division 1 North title game.
On Friday afternoon, the two powers met up again. Trading punches early, Chelmsford took advantage of an Andover miscue in the final inning and parlayed it into victory thanks to Jack Campsmith's walk-off RBI sacrifice fly, giving the Lions a 6-5 victory at Harry J. Ayotte Field.
"We needed just one run and that's what we got," said Campsmith. "This team has huge expectations this season. We've talked about it the whole off-season but it's no longer time to talk about it anymore. It's time to do it. We didn't play our best today but we grinded things out when we needed to.
"It was a good win for us and it will certainly boost our morale. Andover beat us three times last year so that's what you are thinking about in the batting cages during the off-season. We love playing them and today we had good pitching, good defense and got enough runs to win so we're definitely happy about it."
In the bottom of the seventh, Alex Palermo opened by lofting a routine fly ball to right, but a miscue in the outfield allowed Palermo to reach second base safely. One out later, after Palermo moved over to third on a ground out, Campsmith stepped to the plate. On a 1-2 pitch from freshman Cedric Gillette, the senior sailed a fly to right, deep enough for Palermo to tag up and score the game-winner.
The Golden Warriors (2-1) took a 2-0 lead in their first at-bats. Following a Nicholas single, E.J. Perry IV blasted a home run to centerfield off of Lions starter Daylon Thompson. The lead would be short-lived, however. In the bottom of the inning, Chelmsford put runners at the corners with one out, then senior Mike Tice plated a run with an opposite field single to right.
After Gillette plunked Derek Adamson, Chelmsford, again had runners on the corners. Gillette was called for a balk, allowing Campsmith, who reached on a fielder's choice, to trot home with the tying run and Adamson moving up to second. Jack Hansbury followed by grounding single to right, scoring Adamson with Chelmsford's third run of the frame.
The Lions (2-1) added two more runs in the third, extending the lead to 5-2. With one out, Campsmith singled and advanced all the way to third on a wild pitch. Tice followed by crushing a RBI double high off the rock ledge in left field. A ground ball by Adamson ensued, but it passed through the wickets of the second baseman, allowing Adamson to sprint home.
"This was a good team win," said Lions head coach Mike O'Keefe. "Andover is a good team that makes you battle. They make plays and they don't strike out a lot. At least not against us. You have to play well against them to have a chance and I thought we did that defensively and we also got some big hits.
"It was really important for us, after they went up 2-0, for us to come right back on them. That was big for us just for our mentality. Three games into the season I like where we are at."
After a shaky first inning, Thompson retired the next six batters he faced. But trouble loomed yet again for the senior in the fourth. He opened by walking Perry, who stole second and took third on a wild pitch. After disposing the next two batters, Thompson issued a single to Sean Kucharski to make it a two-run game. Gillette next ripped a double into the right-centerfield gap putting runners on second and third.
O'Keefe decided to remove Thompson at that juncture in favor of Clayton Tucker. But the senior quickly surrendered a two-run double off the bat of McNulty to deadlock this tilt. Tucker managed to avoid further damage in the frame by getting Christopulos to ground out.
A senior, Tucker proved solid for the remainder of his outing, going 3-1/3 innings, allowing 0 runs on 3 hits.
"When I first came into the game I let up that hit but then just starting throwing strikes after that," said Tucker, a right-hander. "I was just pounding the zone. I just needed to throw strikes because I know I have a very good defense behind me and I trust them."
In the bottom of the fourth, Chelmsford had a golden opportunity to re-take the lead after putting two on with nobody out. Alex Hill led off and reached first on an error by the shortstop. Erik Janiak then roped a single to right that was bobbled momentarily by the infielder, which allowed both baserunners to move into scoring position.
Gillette, only a freshman, was able to keep his poise in a most-crucial time. The righty gave Golden Warriors head coach Dan Grams a sneak peak of his untapped potential by setting down the next three batters and come away unscathed. Gillette went the distance on the hill, allowing 6 hits while fanning 4. He was also victimized by four errors -- the last one being the most fatal.
Over the next two, both pitchers remained in control, giving up little until the Lions' last inning dramatics which resulted in triumph.
"We always play well against Chelmsford and they were obviously up for us," said Grams. "We made a couple of bad plays in the field and it cost us. It's too bad because I thought our pitcher pitched very well. He was outstanding against a good ball club. He's going to better but I think we'll all get better. EJ hits that home run in the first but I think we sort of let up a bit after that. But I'll take the blame for this loss today. It's on me. When we win, all the credit goes to our kids and not me."
The history between these two standout programs is long and illustrious. Last year was all-time high in this rivalry as both Chelmsford and Andover qualified for Division 1 North tournament as 11th and eighth seeds, respectively. But each were playing their best baseball at the time and rode the crest all the way to the finals won by the Golden Warriors 6-3. Andover eventually fell to Norwood a few days later in the state semifinal.