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Sloppy Red Raiders ousted by Palmer, 4-2

PALMER — Jake Graveline pitched seven strong innings and Palmer High School took advantage of some sloppiness from the Athol High School defense early on to advance to the Western Massachusetts Division II baseball semifinals with a 4-2 victory Monday night at Legion Field.

The 11th-seeded Red Raiders (11-11) made four errors in the first three innings, allowing the third-seeded Panthers (15-6) to score three times and take the early lead. Those miscues were made even worse as Athol struggled to find anything in the way of offense against Graveline, who finished with just two strikeouts but induced 15 ground-ball outs. Athol also lost a pair of runners on the basepaths, where Graveline picked off Jerry Parker and caught Alex Page stealing.

“He pitched well but I thought we had some good at-bats,” Athol coach Josh Talbot said. “We hit a lot of balls right at guys. We just couldn’t find the holes tonight.”

Athol strung together a couple of hits in the top of the first inning but Page was caught stealing and Athol was unable to score. Palmer, on the other hand, got a leadoff single from Troy Remillard and cashed in when Remillard stole second and saw the throw down from Athol catcher Jamie Posk go into center field. Connor Roche then scored him on a ground out.

Palmer wasn’t done there as Tim Siddle singled with one out, stole second and scored on a Grant Farr single to make it 2-0.

The defense really let Athol down in the second after Nolan Burke led off with a single. Athol starting pitcher Brad Bousquet came back to record back-to-back outs, but Roche hit a grounder to short that was misplayed by Parker, and Siddle followed with a ground ball to third that Joey Adams threw away. Those errors brought in another run to put Palmer up 3-0.

“You’ve got to play your best baseball in the tournament and we did not do that tonight,” Talbot said. “We were tight, maybe a little nervous, and that led to some mistakes.”

The Panthers added a fourth run in the fourth when Joe Roberts led off with a single and later scored on a wild pitch. Bousquet was lifted with no outs in the fourth, and finished with no strikeouts and no walks. Dakota Melanson came on and pitched three innings of scoreless relief, striking out none and walking one.

Athol finally got something going off Graveline in the sixth inning when Parker led off by being hit by a pitch. Bousquet followed with a ground ball to short that looked like it might be a double-play ball but was bobbled by Siddle, allowing both runners to reach. Graveline then got back-to-back ground-outs by Page and Melanson, with Melanson’s driving in the first Athol run. It looked like Palmer was going to get out of the inning when Garrett Hall hit a grounder to short, but again Siddle made an error, this time throwing low and wide of first, allowing a second run to score. Things got interesting when the next Athol batter, Joey Adams, blasted a double deep to right-center field, but Hall was held up at third and Johnny Ortiz followed with a grounder to second to end the inning.

“Johnny Ortiz has had a great season, has really blossomed, and he hit the ball hard there. But just like many of the balls we hit tonight, it was right at the guy. That’s how it goes sometimes in baseball.”

Athol went in order in the seventh to end the game.

Graveline allowed just five hits and one walk on the night and faced three batters in four of the seven innings.

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