Saturday, May 27, 2017

St. John's (Shrewsbury) Baseball Pulls Away from Leominster

By John McGuirk (@Patsfan1313)

LEOMINSTER - For all that went right for Leominster through much of the regular season, things have turned drastically wrong in just one week's time. The Blue Devils will scrounge up all the walking canes they can get their hands on as they limp towards the postseason in a fashion nobody here wants to see.

Following Saturday's 9-2 defeat against St. John's (Shrewsbury) at Doyle Field in Leominster, the Blue Devils are now losers of four of their last five, and drop to 13-6. Prior to this recent tailspin, Leominster had rolled off seven straight victories. Leominster has one regular season contest remaining before the start of next week's Division 1 Central Mass. tournament in the hopes of righting the ship. The Blue Devils host powerful St. Peter-Marian on Monday.

"We've had a brutal week," said Leominster coach Rich Barnaby. "We've played Wachusett, Groton-Dunstable, St. John's today and have St. Peter-Marian on Monday. Those are four of the top teams in Central Mass. If we can beat St. Peter-Marian then we can improve our seeding and maybe we get a bye, which would be huge. But I would just be happy to play some great baseball against a tough opponent on Monday."

In the early going against the Pioneers, the Blue Devils stayed relatively close. Down by three runs after three innings, the Blue Devils plated a pair in the fourth, narrowing the gap to a run. But that is when St. John's said enough is enough.

In the fifth, the Pioneers sent 11 to plate, scoring six runs in the process, to turn this one into a rout.

"Give Leominster credit for fighting back because it would have been real easy for them to give up," Pioneers coach Charlie Eppinger said. "Getting those six runs in that fifth inning gave us some breathing room. We are a team where we want all 20 of our players to know that each of them is important. Going into the postseason tournament, all of them are going to need to contribute."

The Pioneers banged out eight hits overall, with senior Christian Jordan accounting for two of them. In the decisive frame, Ian Seymour led off with a bunt single. That was followed up by a Jordan double. After Blue Devils starter Cam Kelly (5 IP, 8 hits, 5 Ks) walked Jack Gardner to load the bases, Sean Burke lined a two-run opposite field single into right. A SAC fly from Tom Moschella made it 6-2. Pat Galvin's single brought Burke home from second, and pinch-hitter Bailey Mikule drove in two more runs with a single to put the Pioneers on cruise control, leading by seven runs.

"Cam gave us a gusty performance," Barnaby said. "There are a lot of tough outs on St. John's so he needed to grind through a lot of at bats. Overall, he did a great job except for that one bad inning."

Burke, a junior, went the first five innings on the mound for St. John's. The University of Maryland commit allowed four hits, walked four and struck out six. It was his off-speed stuff that seemed to be working best for him as he was unable to locate his fastball with regular consistency.

The Pioneers (17-2) jumped ahead in the top of the first. A one out double by Jordan, followed by a wild pitch, set up Gardner's SAC fly for a 1-0 lead. One inning later, senior Jack Fields smashed a 0-1 fastball deep over the centerfield fence, making it a two run game. The Pioneers would extend its advantage to three runs in the third on Gardner's RBI double.

"I was looking for something that I could drive," said Fields, regarding his home run. "(Kelly) threw me a fast ball middle-in and I was able to put a good swing on it. All season this team has been able to hit the ball and get hits when we've needed to. Hopefully that continues into the playoffs. We know our pitching staff is going to keep us in games so, offensively, we just need to keep pecking away and get timely hits when they are there."

Seymour was moving right along over the first three frames. But a second time through the line up had Leominster starting to figure out the tall right-hander. With one out in the fourth, James Powers ripped a double into the right-centerfield gap and LT Pare reached on a strikeout wild pitch. A Dom Fusco ground out scored Powers from third to put the Blue Devils on the board. Senior Justin Robbin next singled to right, scoring Pare with the second run. The inning continued with two runners in scoring position and two out. Leominster had a golden opportunity to either tie or take the lead. But Seymour induced Danny Garcia to bounce out to end the frame.

"We did a good job manufacturing a couple of runs," Barnaby said. "We were able to get some key hits off of one of the best pitchers in Central Mass. I'm happy with the fight today."

Unable to score more runs in the inning would come back to haunt the Blue Devils. Because in the top half of the fifth, they watched in vain as the Pioneers started to flex their muscles, coming up with five hits, a walk and a hit batsman resulting in a six spot and allow them to pull away from Leominster for good.

St. John's would go on to drop the back half of their Saturday double-header against Eastern Mass power St. John's Prep. Despite that, the Pioneers end the regular season as a favorite to take a high seed in the Division 1A "Super 8" tournament.

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