Photo: Belmont, winners of the Brendan Grant Memorial Baseball Tournament.
It’s been seven frustrating years since the last time the Belmont High School Baseball took the title of its own end-of-the-regular-season annual Brendan Grant Memorial Baseball Tournament.
That long wait came to an end on Saturday, May 28, when senior captain Joe Shaughnessy lifted the winners’ trophy as Belmont rode to the title on the arms of its two strong starting pitchers, Belmont’s senior ace Cole Bartels and sophomore phenom Nate Espelin.
For Belmont’s long-time Head Coach Jim Brown, the late season victories are just the sort of preparation he was looking for as the squad enters the Division 2 North Sectional playoffs this week.
“These games, and especially the win over Reading, are great confidence boosters for the team,” said Brown, who said it’s likely Belmont will host a first round game this coming Friday.
“With 14 wins this season, it got the money off our backs of 11 wins in the past three years which meant we were going on the road for the playoffs. We should be a seven or eight seed this year which should be nice.”
In the first game on Friday, May 27, Belmont avenged last week’s heartbreaking 1-0 defeat by beating Reading, 5-2, behind Bartels’ seven innings, 12 strikeout performance – and for the second straight start striking out six consecutive Rockets in the fifth and sixth innings. Bartels helped his cause with a home run and three runs batted in to survive five infield errors to take the victory.
“[Bartels] carries us. He puts us on his back; he says I’m going to do it and bare down,” said Brown of Bartels, who is looking to repeat as the MVP of the Middlesex League.
In Saturday’s championship final, Espelin (four strikeouts) kept Lynnfield High off balance with an array of pitches as his teammates feasted on Div. 3 pitching, scoring five in the first to run away from the Pioneers, 16-2.
Belmont lead off the top of the first – the Marauders were the “visitors” during the game due to a pregame coinflip – with a barrage of singles from catcher Cal Christofori, Noah Riley (rbi), Steve Rizzuto (rbi), Trevor Kelly and the big shot from senior first-base Evan Biette, a two-run single to finish the scoring in the first.
After Espelin got out of a bases-loaded jam in the first with a strikeout, Bartels drove in Christofori in to up the score to 6-0 before a five-run third – highlighted by a two-run single from Matt Kearans – essentially put the game out of reach.
It didn’t surprise anyone that Bartels was named the tournament MVP. Bartels, who has committed to play at Penn State next year, ended the regular season near the top in batting and pitching: hitting .475 and registering 73 strikeouts in Massachusetts.
Belmont will now have six days to prepare for its opening round game in the playoffs.
“One of our goals was a home playoff game because the town comes out and does a great job supporting us,” said Brown.