Photo: Noah Riley at the plate.
After hitting a temporary speed bump (two losses in three games last week) on its record-setting winning clip, Belmont High School’s Nine will face a tough final stretch of games as the Marauders attempt to take the Middlesex League pennant at the same time securing a high playoff seed.
This week Belmont (12-2) will encounter a strong Lexington High (11-4) squad which Friday stopped Middlesex League leaders Reading Memorial High (10-1) for the Rockets’ first loss of the season.
“We play Lexington two out of the next three so we have to dial in on a couple of things like baserunning because it’s gonna be tough,” said Belmont’s long-time Head Coach Joe Brown. Belmont hosts Lexington on Monday, May 15 at 4 p.m.-ish, weather permitting.
Belmont hosts Lexington on Monday, May 15 at 4 p.m.-ish, weather permitting. (Update: The game has been postponed to a later date)
This past Friday and Saturday, Belmont rediscovered its offense after dropping a 3-0 away loss to Arlington by defeating Woburn 10-3 and getting a bit of revenge against the SpyPonders on Saturday, May 13, with a 4-1 victory.
Friday’s game saw Belmont’s junior starter Andrew Mazzone get nicked up for a run in the first only for the Marauders to put up a eight-run bottom of the first on the scoreboard to end the game early. The highlight was back-to-back fence-clearing dingers to deep center right from junior right fielder Max Meier (batting ninth) and from junior leadoff Connor Dacey (2-3 against Woburn) while shortstop Steve Rizzuto went 3-4 with a run and a stolen base.
“Connor’s on fire at the plate,” said Brown as Dacey repeated his 2-3 performance vs. Arlington.
Against the SpyPonders, Belmont got out to a strong start with Connor Dacey driving in his brother, Kevin, from second while senior captain/catcher Cal Christofori singled a 1-2 pitch to bring home Connor. Belmont nearly broke it wide open in the fourth after Dennis Crowley led off the inning with a double and Kevin Dacey and Meier walked to load the bases. But both Crowley and Meier were cut down at the plate before Rizzuto hit a 1 and 1 count by the shortstop to drive in Dacey for the only run. Belmont’s final run came in the bottom of the 6th when that man Connor Dacey rocketed a double that brought Crowley in for the score.
The games highlighted Belmont’s greatest strength, frontline starting pitching. Following Mazzone’s one-run, seven strikeouts over five innings on Friday afternoon Saturday, Belmont’s junior ace Nate Espelin pitch a workman-like seven-inning complete game collecting seven strikeouts to his burgeoning total of Ks.
“I thought the kids played very well after losing to [Arlington] on Tuesday. They bounced back, hit the ball hard and made some nice plays in the field,” said Brown.
With the pair of outstanding outings, Belmont’s earned-run average is hovering at a gaudy 1.0.
“[The starters] have been doing it all year. Even when someone like [Espelin] isn’t as sharp as he usually was [against Arlington], he still held a great hitting team to one run. He’s a big-time pitcher for us,” said Brown.
One aspect of the Marauders’ game that has improved by leaps and bounds from previous seasons has been fielding, not just making fewer miscues for errors but make the outstanding plays for outs. Prime example was the work at second base by Noah Riley, who made a trio of outstanding defensive plays including completing a double play while under pressure and making a Gold-Glove diving grab of a bloop in foul territory to end an inning.
“In our freshman year, he had 60 errors and now just six or seven,” said Riley. “The improvements is because we are doing fundimentals before every practice, and in the off season, throwing each other ground balls and working on the little things.”
Giving Brown some assurance this week is the hitting of senior centerfielder Bryan Goodwin, who has “been like a machine for the past two weeks,” said Brown, as the Roger Williams-commit battles Lexington High junior shortstop Sal Frelick in the batting race.
“We’ll have to be on our game to really challenge for the league title. But all the pieces seem to be there for it to happen,” said Brown.