NORTON, Mass. -- After listening to a week's worth of maybe's, we'll see's and no way's, both St. Peter-Marian and Franklin got the green light to christen their respective seasons. With both clubs scheduled to start up last week, poor field conditions, after a brutal winter season, and weather issues forced them to delay things for another week.
With temperatures reaching 70 degrees on Monday, conditions were finally perfect to play baseball. Even though SPM's or Franklin's home fields were ready, the two schools agreed in making the trip to James V. Sidell Stadium on the campus of Wheaton College to kick things off.
As expected, when teams are landlocked inside a gymnasium or indoor baseball facility for the majority of their pre-season practices, the transition to playing outdoors is never a smooth one, and there were plenty of mistakes to go around on both sides. However, the Guardians appeared to be a little more-suited in the art of fine tuning themselves as this three-hour contest moved forward, holding on for an 11-6 victory.
With the first five innings played out as a back-and-forth odyssey, SPM (1-0) managed to gain control of this tilt late. With things knotted up at five apiece, the Guardians scored three times in their half of the sixth inning and never looked back. RBI singles from Pat Gallagher and John Gonzales (3 for 5), followed by a bases-loaded walk, had SPM in front 8-5.
Franklin (0-1) got one of those runs back in the bottom of the frame, courtesy of an Andrew Parent single.
However, SPM (15 hits total) added three more runs in the seventh, making the Panthers deficit too steep to climb out from. With runners on first and second, a Franklin error led to one run. Moments later, Gonzales, on an 2-0 pitch, stroked a double down the right field line to bring home two more.
Relief pitcher Erik LaCaire, who also collected three hits at the plate along with Alec Siminovich, surrendered a double and walk to begin the bottom of the seventh before closing things out after retiring the next three batters he faced.
"We made a lot of mistakes," Guardians head coach Ed Riley said. "But I was actually surprised by a lot of the good things we did too. We put the ball in play today. I think our kids will filter themselves into the season. Once we stay outside and get enough reps I think we'll be OK.
"Give credit to Franklin because we had them down and they came back on us a couple of times which shows how tough they are. We've got some kids who have played in big games before and our leaders were the ones who came through today, and the younger guys will follow which is what we need."
The Panthers, finishing with nine hits, jumped ahead 1-0 in the first inning on Zane Byrne's RBI fly out. But the Guardians stormed back, putting up a three spot in the third against Panthers starter Anthony Chaiton. Sophomore Christan Walsh delivered the key blow by belting a two run double to left. Walsh later came around to score on Josh Delsignore's single.
With neither pitching staff looking to take command, the Panthers jumped on starter Gallagher in the bottom of the third. Nick Santucci opened the frame by doubling to left and would come around to score after a pair of wild pitches thrown by Gallagher. Byrne followed with a walk and sprinted home on Tyler Gomes' double to the left-center field gap. After taking third on yet another wild pitch, Gomes scored Franklin's fourth run on Ben Chaffee's line single.
As was the pattern throughout the early going, SPM re-took the lead in its half of the fourth. With two on and two out, Walsh (3 for 5) delivered yet again, this time singling in a pair to give the Guardians a 5-4 lead.
"It was a great feeling to finally get outside," Walsh said. "The team did well by seeing balls and hitting balls hard. I was seeing the ball well but I couldn't have done it without the rest of my team. We put together some great hits today, pulled things together and got the win."
But Franklin, refusing to go quietly, tied this tilt up in the bottom half of the fourth. With Gonzales now on in place of Gallagher, the Panthers had runners at the corners. Gonzales, a junior, tried to pick off Parent at first but threw wildly which allowed Burgos, who walked, to score easily from third.
The Panthers' efforts of continuously trying to climb back into this one would come to halt once the Guardians re-grouped following their six run outburst over the final two innings and put this game in the books.
"It was great to get outside against a quality opponent," Panthers second-year head coach Zach Brown said. "Obviously the game was very competitive and back and forth. Unfortunately, they made a few more plays and played a little cleaner that we did. I certainly thought our guys competed well in the box. At times I thought we pitched well and played well in terms of our pitching and defense. But they are a good team and put some good swings on the ball when we made mistakes and capitalized. That was kind of the name of the game for us today."