WILMINGTON — The LTA (Lou Thompkins Association) Wilmington baseball team, winners of seven of their eight outings this summer by wide margins, finally came up against an opponent on Monday evening that offered a degree of resistance.
In a duel staged under a sweltering 95-degrees that featured four lead changes and wasn’t decided until the final inning, Wilmington edged visiting North Andover, 5-4, to improve to 7-1 overall. Clutch in the seventh was starting pitcher Shane Costello, who stole a pair of bases and scored the eventual game-winner on a ground ball out.
“We haven’t really played many competitive games lately,” said Wilmington coach James Hill, who last week claimed his sixth win when Brookline Blue forfeited due to lack of players. “We’ve been putting up a lot of runs early in our games and then coasting the rest of the way. So it was kind of nice today to have a team that we could compete against and have the kids see that aspect of the game.”
Clearly, it was the trademark aggressive baserunning on the part of the Wildcats that led to this key win, but there were times when the method backfired. In the sixth inning, for instance, Wilmington wasted potential go-ahead offense with mental lapses on the basepads. Brett Ebert, who led off with a basehit and stole second, was gunned down stretching a lead. And later, teammate Jacob Roque was caught misjudging a fly ball out, ending a promising inning.
“I didn’t send the runner to third base but it is what it is,” said Hill. “I like the aggressiveness and when the kids take risks. They learn from them. You have a situation like this when you get thrown out doing something you shouldn’t and later, when you’re playing high school ball, you don’t make that same mistake. This is where you learn.”
The game was played at Scanlon Field but North Andover was designated as the home team and batted last. Wilmington climbed into an early lead on the efforts of Bruce Zimmer, who started them with a one-out basehit off starter Jack Thorn, stole second, took third on a passed ball, and scored on a Costello sacrifice fly.
North Andover leadoff hitter David Johnson put a charge in one to the left field fence for a triple but was later cut down at the plate. The play developed when Wilmington catcher Patrick Stokes lost the handle on a Costello outside pitch. The baserunner made an ill-advised dash for home but Stokes recovered and applied a run-saving tag.
North Andover climbed into a lead in the third, scoring a trio when Costello got into trouble and walked four, wrapped around a Michael Sullivan double. Coach Hill recognized the North Andover scheme which led to an early exit for Costello.
“They just weren’t swinging the bat, which is a strategy,” the coach explained. “It made it so one of our better pitchers had to be taken out of the game early because of the pitch count. He was all around the plate and against a team that would swing the bat, he might have gone seven.”
“On the strength of seven strikeouts, Shane Costello turned in our most powerful pitching performance of the season,” said Wilmington assistant coach Rick Hill.
In a pivotal fifth inning, the Wildcats scored three and recaptured the lead, 4-3. Michael Maselli took one between the shoulder blades for a free base and later advanced on a ground ball out. Mike Monteforte crushed a fastball to put runners on the corners. He was followed by Patrick Hounsell, whose two-out basehit plated Maselli. North Andover replaced Thorn with reliever Kaelin Conklin, who inherited a pair of runners. Jacob Doherty soon cleared those basepads by chopping a routine grounder that should have ended the inning but instead, found its way through the wickets of the shortstop, resulting in a pair of runs.
Maselli relieved Costello and got into trouble in the bottom of the fifth, allowing North Andover to knot the score at 4 off back-to-back hits. But the Wildcat hurler recovered nicely in the next inning, making quick work of the top of the order. Meanwhile, the defense behind him was solid.
“They are phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal,” said Hill, describing his defense, that is near-flawless, game in and game out. “It always works out that if we make one bad play, everybody else just picks the guy up and moves past it.”
Wilmington’s Costello manufactured the go-ahead run in the seventh and Maselli stranded a pair in the bottom of the frame to close it.
Wilmington and Woburn currently share first place with matching 7-1 records. The teams will meet Wednesday evening to resolve the impasse followed by a Wilmington-Stoneham double-header on Thursday.