(Lynn) The Newburyport Clippers are the Massachusetts Division 3 state champs in baseball for 2011.
The Clippers (23-5) put together a thirteen game winning streak, including six in the state tournament, to win their first baseball state title ever at Fraser Field in Lynn on Saturday afternoon.
Their opponent in the finals was Pioneer Valley from Northfield – winner of the West.
The final score was, 9-4, but trust me, this game didn’t get “comfortable” until Newburyport survived a scary top of the sixth and then put up two insurance runs in the bottom half of the six to get that final-score, five run lead.
Clipper coach Bill Pettingell gets to walk away from a 40-year career with a storybook ending. The team’s goal to get him his 600th win kept their attention in the early part of the season and the desire to get him a state title kept their attention the rest of the way.
I recall reading that he said that this team was “special” and a great team to finish with. I passed it off as “coach speak,” figuring you’d expect a coach to be positive about the team he has. But it turns out that this team was special and showed us all that it had what it takes to end up champions. Good for them!
Let me get that scary top of the sixth out of the way first. The Panthers (18-8) were down 7-4. Derek Thayer started the inning with a bullet down the 3rd baseline. Clipper third baseman Drew Carter made the play of the game with a backhand stab and a strong throw to first. Drew’s defense looked real important when Newburyport starter Brett Fontaine walked the next two batters before pinch hitter Nick Peduzzi flaired a single to right to load the bases. That put Pioneer Valley into “one-swing” territory with the top of their order coming up. However, Brett (11th win) struck out Jordan Stempel (he had singled the inning before) and got Casey Blanchard (he had tripled the inning before) to fly harmlessly to left and the threat was over.
Brett retired the side in order in the seventh with right fielder Sam Barlow handling Joey Larson’s fly for the final out.
After that there was a Clipper pile-up, team handshakes, medal handouts, and trophy celebration. And to think, some folks chose the Bruins parade in Boston over this!
The Clippers put plenty of pressure on the Panther defense all game long. They ended up with eleven hits but it was their aggressiveness on the base paths that forced Pioneer Valley into, what turned out to be, errors and bad decisions.
In the second inning, Dave Cusack (part of state champion hockey team in 2009-10) singled to drive in one run but rounded first and drew a throw that allowed a second run to score.
In the third inning, Jimmy Conway hit was looked like a double play ball but hustled to first. The throw to first was dropped by Joey Larson giving Newburyport an unearned run as Matt Mottola scored from second.
In the fourth inning, more pressure came Pioneer Valley’s way. Sam Barlow led off with a single and Dave Cusack reached on a bunt single. With both base runners in motion, Colby Morris also bunted. Third baseman Tyler O’Brien made a wild throw to first and two runners scored.
There’s three unearned runs in the first five the Clippers scored.
Things started well for the Panthers. In the first they had a single by Casey Blanchard (2 hits/2 runs/1 RBI). He reached second on the first of Brett Fontaine’s two balks and scored on a single by Panther starter Kyle Platner.
The Clippers took the lead, 2-1, in the second and later 3-1 in the third on the Panthers’ unsuccessful double play.
Things got a bit ugly for Newburyport in the fourth inning. A single (Tom Malooly), a passed ball (Connor Wile), a fielder’s choice, and another passed ball, gave Pioneer Valley its second run.
The Clippers responded with four in their fourth to boost the lead to, 7-2. The mishandled bunt I mentioned before was followed by a Matt Mottola triple to deep center which drove in the third run (Colby Morris) of the inning. Brett Fontaine’s infield grounder delivered Matt Mottola with the fourth run.
Now down 7-2, the Panthers picked up two in the top of the fifth. Jordan Stempel singled and reached 3B on a passed ball. Casey Blanchard’s triple to right center drove in Jordan. An infield grounder by Kyle Platner brought in Casey.
But that would be the last of the runs for Pioneer Valley. They seriously threatened in the next inning (sixth) but ended with the bases loaded.
The Clippers put up the “breathe easier” two runs in the sixth inning. Two walks (Colby Morris and Matt Mottola) off Panther reliever Cory Serviss set the stage for a Brett Fontaine single to left. Colby scored on that single and Matt reached home when Jimmy Conway singled as well.
Pioneer Valley left Northfield at 8:15AM and arrived at least 1 ½ hours before game time.
That “game time” thing will be a memory from this contest. The game was supposed to start at noon. Everyone was in place at noon except the umpires. You and I have been to less important games and not had officials show up but this was the state finals! Three umpires made an appearance eventually and the game started at 12:40.
I asked an MIAA official afterwards about the umpire situation. He said that he had no idea where the scheduled umpires were. Could they have gone to the Lowell Spinners park??
He told me that there was an umpire on hand who was working for the MIAA in a different assignment at Fraser so they enlisted him. Then they made a call to Swampscott and got a father/son team to ump. The father/son team were college umpires. The MIAA rep said they (the MIAA) were lucky that these guys were home.
The umps got a derisive cheer when they arrived but they deserved a warm welcome for filling in on short notice.
The weather was great. Plenty of sun and a nice breeze.
Matt Mottola was two-for-two, scored three runs, and had an RBI.
Ryan O’Connor warmed up in the bottom of the sixth just in case.
An important part in the Clipper victory was the fact that they played the North final last Saturday after that big rain delay. The other sections (South/Central/West) postponed their finals and had to scramble to make up the games. Newburyport was thus able to have its two superb pitchers (Ryan O’Connor and Brett Fontaine) pitch the state semifinal and state final on normal rest. Pioneer Valley wasn’t able to do that.
(I collect my own statistics, take my own pictures, and draw my own conclusions. I apologize in advance for mistakes.)
The pictures below are thumbnail size but if you click on them they become normal size. I do not take pictures for a living and will send (via email) any that I’ve taken for no charge. Send me an email if you’re interested.