Photo: Senior Steve Rizzuto crossing the plate after hitting a home run in the bottom of the 10th against Arlington.
The playoffs ended way too soon for Belmont High baseball.
A pair of errors on fly balls in the outfield proved the difference as Belmont walked off Brendan Grant Field as 12-ranked and Middlesex League rival Arlington (12-9) celebrating a 5-4 upset victory over the fifth-seed Marauders (15-6) in the first round of the Division 2 North sectional playoffs on Thursday, June 7.
“It’s a tough one,” said Head Coach Jim Brown after the game. “We were winning those lately.”
The senior-heavy team nearly made off with another last inning victory, scoring three runs with two outs in the bottom of the 7th off Arlington reliever Jay Masci on four consecutive singles by seniors Dennis Crowley, Ryan Noone, Connor Dacey and Steve Rizzuto to tie the score at three.
“That’s what is great about this senior class and these kids. They don’t panic and fight to the very end, to the last out. They never quit,” Brown.
After allowing two runs to score on a two-out dropped fly ball in the top of the 10th off hard-luck loser Martin Marintchev who relieved senior starter Nate Espelin, Belmont quickly reduced the lead to one with a home run by the game’s hitting star Rizzuto, who went 4 for 4 with a double and the dinger, scored a run and drove in a pair.
But with a man on second, a line drive to the Arlington shortstop started a 6-3 double play and an easy fly to right field ended the season which saw Belmont win consecutive Middlesex League championships, the first time since 1961 Belmont captured the league two seasons running.
The one-run defeat was apropos for the team; in 21 games the Marauders played this season, 10 were decided by a single run.
“I love playing with this team. It was awesome,” said Espelin, Belmont’s ace southpaw who struck out 17 SpyPonders over nine innings while giving up two earned runs on five hits. “It was frustrating how it ended. It’s memorable the character that they all showed, how we stayed together no matter what.”
On Espelin’s first pitch of the game, leadoff hitter Brendan Jones sent the ball to deep center where the Marauder center fielder stumbles, recovers but then stumbles a second time to see the ball fall beyond his glove. Jones scored on Dara Conneely’s double.
In the hole by a run after half an inning, the Marauders’ had its chances against Arlington starter Adam Bowler including leaving the bases loaded in the 2nd and 4th innings and stranding 12 men on base, 8 in scoring position.
The SpyPonders increased its lead scoring twice in the top of the 4th with two singles and a double off Espelin.
It didn’t appear Belmont had anything in the tank offensively until the 7th when the bench erupted with each clutch hit by the middle of the order. But the team could not muster the one extra run to take the game.
Brown said despite the early exit, “it was definitely a good season. Obviously, these seniors, many who were three-year starters, wanted to go further in the playoffs. But I’m proud of them,” he said.