Southwick edges Athol in 8th, 1-0

Recorder Staff
Friday, June 08, 2018

SOUTHWICK — In extra innings, one play makes all the difference. Southwick-Tolland Regional High School capitalized on its opportunity, and the sixth-seeded Rams advanced to the next round as a result.

Josh Sylvia’s pop-up to shallow left field fell helplessly between a pair of Athol High School fielders with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning. Two batters later, No. 8 hitter Dalton Bessette roped his third hit of the day, a line-drive single to the right center-field gap that plated the game’s only run to give Southwick a 1-0 walk-off victory over the 11th-seeded Red Raiders in a WMass Div. III first round game Friday night under the lights at Whalley Park.

Athol finished its season 10-11 overall, while Southwick (14-7) advanced to play No. 3 Monument Mountain Regional High School in Monday’s quarterfinal round.

After Athol sophomore Mark Ferrari (14 strikeouts) and Southwick senior Nick Kavrakis (9 strikeouts) matched zeroes for seven stellar innings, the action headed to extras. Nick Bousquet walked and stole second to put a runner in scoring position for the Raiders in the top of the eighth, but Southwick reliever Bart Shea got back-to-back strikeouts to escape the jam.

With one out in the bottom of the frame, Southwick’s Josh Sylvia lifted an innocuous fly ball to shallow left field. Some miscommunication in the field enabled the ball to fall however, and Sylvia ran hard the whole way to slide in just before the tag on a double.

“We talk about it a lot, how one pitch and one play can make a difference in a game,” began Athol head coach Josh Talbot. “I don’t think we saw (the ball). Nobody got a read on it and it really changed the complexion of the game for us.”

Bousquet, who came on to start the eighth after Ferrari’s day came to an end, struck out Sam Mizarioglu for the second out of the inning. But on the play, the ball briefly got away from catcher Kris Selanis and Sylvia was able to scoot up to third base.

That set the stage for Bessette, who smacked a hard-hit single into the gap for the game-winning RBI that sent the Rams through to the quarterfinal round.

“Give him credit, he had himself a game,” said Talbot of Bessette, who wound up with three of Southwick’s seven hits. “Sometimes you need unsung heroes to step up and they were able to find one on their team.”

For seven innings, Ferrari gave a heroic effort for Athol. Against a talented Southwick lineup, the right-hander worked out of a few jams, including bases-loaded situations in the second and fifth innings. He struck out at least one batter in every inning, including three in the first and second frames, en route to a whopping total of 14 punch outs. 

“Mark was phenomenal,” lauded Talbot. “All we heard about was how good the top of their order was and to his credit, he was great against them.”

Indeed, the top three hitters in the Southwick lineup finished 1-for-11 against Ferrari.

The Athol offense was held in check by Kavrakis, who struck out nine and walked just one in seven shutout innings. The Raiders managed just three hits on the night, with singles by Bousquet, James Laford and Ferrari, though they did threaten in the second inning when Kavrakis left the bases loaded with a strikeout.

“We knew it’d be a grind. Tournament baseball is a grind,” Talbot said. “We missed some opportunities, for sure. They’re a good team, and you can’t let good teams keep hanging around.”

The loss brings Athol’s promising season to an end, as the Raiders got hot late and were a squad no team in the Div. III field was looking forward to seeing in their bracket.

“It hurts to lose mainly because we were playing really good baseball and I thought we could do some damage,” Talbot admitted. “The guys, they’re sad because they lost but I think they’re really sad because we don’t get to play together again. That’s the hardest part right now.”