Red Hawks’ explosion crushes Crusaders, 12-1
NORTH ADAMS — Frontier Regional School put on an offensive show over the first four innings Wednesday afternoon to secure a shot at a WMass baseball title for the second consecutive season with a 12-1 thrashing of St. Joseph’s-Central High School of Pittsfield in the WMass Division III semifinals at Joseph Zavattaro Athletic Complex on the campus of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
The third-seeded Red Hawks (17-6) advance to Saturday afternoon’s Division III championship game against Smith Academy at Lorden Field on the campus of UMass in Amherst at 1:15. Frontier also made the finals last season but was stymied by Mt. Everett Regional High School, which won 3-1 for the school’s first-ever championship. Frontier outfielder Matt Byrne was on last year’s team and, after going 2-for-4 with three runs scored in Wednesday’s win over St. Joe’s, said that getting another chance at a title is great.
“Last year’s final, we didn’t do so well,” Byrne said. “Our pitching was great, but we couldn’t follow through with the bats. But this year we are going to go right through it.”
Frontier registered 12 hits over the first four innings and was helped by four Crusader errors to score 11 runs and take a commanding lead. That helped starting pitcher Ben Ruddock, who simply pitched to contact and let his defense do its job to thwart St. Joe’s offense. Ruddock struck out only four, but allowed just four hits and five walks in six-plus innings to earn the win.
“If Ben was the type of selfish player that was worried about strikeouts, then I’m sure he could have had a few more, but he was pitching with a big lead and pitching to contact, and that’s exactly what we encourage our pitchers to do with that type of lead, and he executed perfectly,” first-year Frontier coach Chuck Holt said. “And this was one of our better defensive games today.”
The first inning was all about momentum, with Frontier scoring twice in the top of the first inning, the big play coming on an error. Leadoff hitter Niko Ames reached when he was hit by a curveball, and Ryan Hoar later worked a two-out walk. A double-steal put both runners in scoring position, but Byrne followed up with a pop up to short center field that looked like it would end the inning. But that was not so, as St. Joe’s center fielder, shortstop and second baseman converged on the ball and, amidst the confusion, shortstop Mike Carpenter tried to catch it but it popped out of his glove, allowing both runners to score. That inning told story of the game in a variety of ways as Frontier got the leadoff hitter on in each of the first four innings, allowing that runner scored in each. The Red Hawks also managed to steal seven bases in the first four frames, and St. Joseph’s continued to make costly errors.
The Crusaders (16-7) came back with a run in the bottom of the first and were threatening to tie it with two outs and a runner on third before No. 5 hitter Zack Neary hit a weak grounder in front of the mound that Ruddock fielded and fired to first. The first-base umpire initially began to call Neary safe but then punched him out to end the threat and strand the runner at third.
From there it was all Frontier. The Red Hawks added a run in the second inning when Eddie Tsai led off with a single and scored on Jared Allis’ RBI single. Frontier then blew the game open with five runs in the third, with much of the damage coming from the bottom of the order. Bryne, the No. 5 hitter, led off and reached when he hit a sharp ground ball that ate up St. Joseph’s third baseman Connor Lein. Then Sam Tillona was then hit by a pitch and Sean Doyle laid down a perfect bunt past the mound to load the bases. Tsai followed by belting a two-run double to deep left-center. The relay home was thrown high and wide by Carpenter, allowing a third run to score. That chased St. Joseph’s starter Pat Latini, who struck out one and walked two in two-plus innings. Carpenter came on and was greeted by freshman Brandon Bryant, who lined a single back up the middle to plate Tsai. Bryant then stole second and scored when Ames unloaded on a Carpenter offering, sending it to deep right field for a double. Frontier had a chance at an even bigger inning before Ames got caught stealing third. Later, pinch runner Tim Hoar was running for Rylan Baronas, who singled, and was likewise caught stealing.
Frontier did not stop being aggressive on the bases in the fourth inning, when Ryan Hoar led off with a single and Byrne followed with a double off the base of the wall in left. Tillona drove in Hoar with a single between first and second, and he was lifted for pinch runner Matt Ackerman. That set up a well-executed double-steal on which Ackerman swiped second and Byrne raced home for the 10th run. Ackerman later scored on Bryant’s sacrifice fly to center. After the game, Holt said that his team plays aggressively on the bases and will not stop running even if it does cost them an out from time-to-time.
“We are a running team,” Holt said. “Our baserunning, our speed, is part of what we’ve done all year. We’ve been really aggressive. There are times that we will run ourselves out of an inning but that’s our style. We are going to be aggressive and we are going to force a team to show us that they can throw us out.”
Bryant, the No. 9 hitter, finished 1-for-1 with two sacrifice flies, a walk and three RBI. Tsai, the No. 8 hitter, went 3-for-4 with two RBIs, and Tillona went 3-for-3 with one RBI. The bottom five hitters in the lineup finished a combined 10-for-15 and Holt said he is blessed with a lineup that really doesn’t have a weakness.
“I know I’m being spoiled in my first year because we don’t really have a bottom of the lineup,” Holt said. “I had Eddie Tsai batting eighth today. He could be a leadoff hitter or a fifth hitter on most teams. Brandon Bryant is hitting the cover off the ball, and he’s a freshman.”