(Newburyport) Who saw this coming?
Undefeated Newburyport was riding an 18-game winning streak going back into last season. They’re the defending Division 3 state champs.
Manchester-Essex was 2-16 last year and 2-3 this season with losses to Georgetown, Rockport, and Amesbury.
But at the end of this Thursday afternoon game the Hornets (3-3) were jumping up and down after a 5-2 upset over the Clippers (5-1) at cold and cloudy Pettingell Field in a Cape Ann League contest.
Winning pitcher Adrian Frattini had run support early (up 4-0 after 2 ½ innings) and scattered seven hits over seven innings.
For 6 ½ innings the Hornets played like they were the defending state champs showing strong pitching, timely hitting and flawless fielding, but in the bottom of the seventh, with a 5-2 lead, they started to unravel.
Clipper pinch hitter Ryan Short reached first after a passed ball on a strikeout with one out. After a back-to-the-fence flyout by Colby Morris, shortstop Joe Burgess fell down trying to field Ian Michaels grounder putting two runners on with two outs. Up stepped CAL All-Leaguer Brett Fontaine. He hit a grounder to the right of first baseman Max Nesbit that had “routine out” written all over it. However, pitcher Adrian Frattini was late coming over to cover and the hustling Brett Fontaine beat the throw.
But then ME got the game-ending break as Ryan Short tried to score from second on Brett’s grounder and Adrian’s throw to Dom Cirone nailed him by plenty to secure the Hornet upset.
Newburyport had another basepath blunder in the 4th inning when Connor MacRae strayed too far off second base on a sacrifice fly and was picked off.
First-time Clipper starter Evan Habib gave up a double to Joe Burgess on the first pitch he threw and was down 2-0 after three batters. John Browning delivered the first run with a double over leftfielder Mike Sweeney’s head. John scored on Matt Corwin’s single to right.
Evan faced the top of the order again in the third inning and surrendered two more runs. Another double by Joe Burgess (he was 3-for-3), started things and a single to right center by John Browning moved Joe to third. Joe registered the Hornets’ third run of the game on a wild pitch. John would come home with Run #4 on a Max Nesbit sacrifice fly.
Stephen Singer came on to pitch to the Hornets in the 4th. His problem was wildness. Three walks, one of them intentional to Joe Burgess, and a hit batsman (John Browning) gave ME a 5-0 advantage after 3 ½ innings.
It looked as if the Clipper fortunes were changing for the better in the bottom of the 4th after Colton Fontaine got an extra swing because John Browning misjudged his foul fly. Sure enough, Colton ripped the next pitch to left for a single. Jimmy Conway followed with a walk before Connor MacRae laced a high fastball to left center for a double driving in Colton and sending Jimmy to third.
So there it was nicely set up for Newburyport; a run in, two runners in scoring position, and no one out. But instead of a really big 4th inning the Clippers sacrifice flied into a double play and Ben Greene grounded out to short. The Clippers got two runs but the chance for more escaped them.
Stephen Singer pitched his way out of a base loaded, nobody out, big-time jam in the fifth with a force at home surrounded by two strikeouts.
That escape kept the deficit at three runs (5-2) but the Clippers couldn’t rally back over the last two innings and get their first loss of the season.
This was Adrian Frattini’s first start of the season. It certainly shouldn’t be his last!
Noah Brown and freshman John Browning each had two hits for ME.
Centerfielder Ian Michaels had two hits for the Clippers.
Manchester-Essex faces Ipswich at home on Saturday afternoon (1PM).
Newburyport rematches with North Reading on the same day at home at 10AM. The Clippers won the first meeting, 1-0, on April 13th.
As the Hornets carried the lead into the late innings someone on the ME bench said, “This is like the US against Russia,” recalling the Lake Placid upset by the American Olympians.
(All of the pictures enlarge significantly if you click on them.)