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Hopedale ousts Frontier, 5-1

WORCESTER — The Frontier Regional School baseball team showed the necessary desire and character on Wednesday afternoon. However, its execution did not reach the adequate level for a Division III state semifinal.

The Red Hawks made twice as many errors as they had hits in a 5-1 loss to Hopedale High School at Tivnan Field.

“We talked about not being hungover after winning Western Mass., but it seemed that may have happened to us a bit,” Frontier coach Chuck Holt said. “Those two popups really set the tone for the game. We won a lot of games as a team, and today we lost as a team.”

Western Massachusetts champion Frontier (18-7) struggled against Hopedale lefty Ian Strom, who fired a three-hitter with 12 strikeouts. He also had an RBI double and scored a run.

“I thought we played hard, but we ran into a really tough pitcher on a day we didn’t play great,” senior shortstop Ryan Hoar said. “We put in a lot of energy, it simply wasn’t our day.”

Central Massachusetts champion Hopedale (21-3) assured that the career of retiring head coach Joe Small will conclude in the Division III state championship game. The Blue Raiders will face Middleborough High School (20-5) Saturday at noon at LeLacheur Park in Lowell.

“It is tough, especially after not practicing much (Monday) with the rain,” Hoar said. “But we did play teams we didn’t know like Maynard during the season. So we had some idea how to prepare, but it definitely wasn’t like playing Greenfield, a team we know really well.”

“We had a lot of good at-bats and took some good cuts, but (Strom) was pretty overpowering,” Hoar said. “I only saw fastballs from him, but he has a really good curve and changeup. He hit his spots so well that we had a tough time guessing location. And he threw hard enough that we were late on a lot of swings.”

Junior Ben Ruddock threw perfect innings in the second, fourth and sixth. He allowed just two earned runs on five hits with five strikeouts and no walks.

“I was so impressed with Ben’s performance,” Holt said. “All season long he pitched very composed, and he certainly showed that again in this game.”

Cole DeDonato led Hopedale’s attack by going 2-for-3 with two runs scored and an RBI. Dan Mantoni knocked in a pair in the win.

Three Frontier errors in the opening inning led directly to Hopedale’s first run. Strom reached on a two-base error with two down, then raced home when Mantoni’s infield popup fell in behind the mound.

The Red Hawks responded immediately to tie the game at 1-1. Jared Allis and Sam Tillona hit consecutive singles to put runners on first and third, then Eddie Tsai’s fielder’s choice brought in Allis.

“Our guys were focused and everyone was into the game,” Holt said. “We showed great character coming back to tie. I’m very proud of the way our kids handled themselves. They didn’t get down and continued to support one another.”

Hopedale scored the eventual winning run with two down in the third. DeDonato launched a triple to deep right-center and trotted home on Strom’s double down the left-field line.

If Ruddock could have set down the Blue Raiders in the fifth, Frontier would have brought up the heart of its order trailing by just a run. But two errors and three hits led to three insurance tallies for the Blue Raiders.

DeDonato and Mantoni drove in a run apiece on singles.

“We had a few different opportunities, but they threw an excellent pitcher aainst us,” Holt said. “One hit here or there, along with some better defense, and it would have been a really tight game. But we didn’t make enough plays.”

The Red Hawks appeared poised to respond in the top of the sixth. Matt Byrne led off with a single and Hoar reached on an error. But when Allis grounded to second to force Hoar, Byrne took too wide a turn around third and shortstop Mantoni wheeled around and picked him off.

“Midway through the season, our team had some difficulties, but we pulled together and got hot in time for the tournament,” Hoar said. ”It’s great to win a championship, especially in a game in which we needed everybody on the team.

“This season will be the most memorable for us, and last year was also very memorable. But all four years playing for this team have been great.”

It was the final high school game for Frontier seniors Hoar, Tillona, Allis, Byrne, Tsai, Rylan Baronas, Peter Watroba and Billy Barrington.

“All of those guys have been crucial to this program,” Holt said. “Seven starters, two incredible pitchers, so we’ll be missing some leadership early on next year. But what a great ride for these guys.”

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