LOWELL, Mass. -- For 30 years, the mystique and aura of Atlanta Braves pitching great Tom Glavine has hung over the Billerica High School baseball program.
Glavine was on the mound pitching for Indians in 1983, the last time the school won the Division 1 North title. After the North title game Sunday, some on the team were left wondering if he had something to do with the team’s 4-3 victory over heavily-favored St. John’s Prep.
“We had an unknown person that came into our locker room and put on the bulletin board, ‘The Spirit of Tommy Glavine is with you,” said Billerica (18-6) coach Joe Higgins. “We don’t know who did it, but I’ll tell ya, I think his spirit and Gary DiSarcina’s spirit, they’re all here today. That was a great upset. The guys played great.”
The Indians got on the board against Prep (22-2) starter Justin Snyder in the second after back-to-back singles from Max Frawley (2-for-4) and Chris Murphy (3-for-3, 3 singles). On Murphy’s bloop hit to center, Frawley attempted to go first to third. The throw from center hit him in the back while he was running, sending the ball down the third base line, which allowed him to score easily.
Kyle Murphy (2-for-5) plated Robby Gambale in the third to give the team a 2-0 lead. Kyle got another RBI in the fifth when his double scored Eric Eknanian. He scored the eventual winning run after Mike Driscoll, Prep’s third pitcher of the afternoon, was called for a balk. Driscoll made a move towards third, but never stepped off the rubber, causing the umpires to award Murphy home plate.
Since Dylan Lavery and Max Frawley each threw at least eight innings in Billerica’s last two games, Higgins gave the ball to Murphy to start Sunday. He delivered, throwing 132 pitches in six innings, striking out eight while giving up three hits and walking six.
“I wanted to pound fastballs and try to get ahead on a lot of hitters,” he said after the game. “I knew after the first time through the lineup, they would be able to time the fastball since they’re a great hitting team. I worked in my change-up, which was really good for me today, and had a few good curveballs to catch them off balance. I threw a few to keep them thinking I had that in my back pocket.”
As Murphy said, Prep struck the second time through the lineup. In the third inning, after Alex Moore (1-for-2, two walks) singled and Brandon Bingel (0-for-3, two walks) walked, Keith Leavitt (1-for-5) laced a double down the right field line. Both runners scored, tying the game at two, but Leavitt was thrown out at third trying to stretch the double into a triple.
Prep added another run in the fifth when Tommy Buonopane (2-for-4) scored on a wild pitch.
The Eagles put a scare into the Billerica faithful in the final two innings, but could not score the tying run. It had runners on second and third with two outs in the eighth and runners on the corners with two outs in the ninth.
On both occasions, Gambale, who came on in relief of Murphy in the seventh, was able to force a ground-out, ending any chance Prep had of tying the score.
Guaranteeing victory: After Saturday’s 7-1 victory over Westford Academy, Bilerica’s Eric Eknanian said the best team was going to win Sunday, and he believed his team is the best and can play with anybody.
It is one thing for a player to proclaim something like that coming off the emotional high of a state tournament semi-final victory, and it is another for it to be instilled in the fabric of a team. That belief and confidence runs through the entire Billerica team.
“We believe that 100 percent,” said Robby Gambale. “We all have faith in it, we all believe in it, so we go out and prove it and do our job.”
While they agree on the talent and ability of the team, they were quick to acknowledge the potency and achievements of a Prep team that came into Sunday riding a 22-game winning streak and still gave them all they could handle.
“We just beat the best team in the state, they’ve been ranked No. 1 all year,” said Murphy. “If we play like that every day, we’re going to go out and win the state championship.”
As the teams exited the playing field on the way to their respective buses, some Prep players made it a point to seek out Murphy and Gambale and, in a show of good sportsmanship, congratulate them on the win and their quality pitching performances.