WILMINGTON — As the summer baseball season winds down and the Northeast teams jockey for position, each remaining game begins to take on more meaning, especially for those currently at the top of the league.
Heading into a Tuesday night showdown with Billerica, with first place on the line, Wilmington hoped to emerge in sole possession of the league lead as they gear up for the stretch run to the playoffs. Instead, Billerica exacted retribution for an earlier defeat to the Wildcats, toppling their host, 3-1.
The logjam at the top of the Northeast League South division, which features Billerica (7-3) and North Reading (7-3) sharing first with 14-points apiece and Wilmington (5-3-1) trailing in third with 11, will become more intriguing as each club strives to break from the pack over the final week of the regular season.
“We need to win out and hope that Billerica loses a game or two,” explained Coach Mark Dynan. “We have a game with Lowell on Wednesday and face Lynnfield on Thursday. If we can win the next two and improve to 7-3-1, we could be right back in it.”
Wilmington came into the contest on the heels of a 2-2 tie with Newton last Friday night and a 10-0 cakewalk over a winless Tyngsboro on Sunday. According to Dynan, his team squandered baserunners in the key matchup with Newton, which seems to be a recent trend. Facing Billerica, the Wildcats left seven on base, four in scoring position.
“Sometimes, we need to be more aggressive with our baserunning,” said Dynan. If we find out that we’re not getting the hits, then we need to do more on the bases. We just didn’t do that against Newton or tonight with Billerica.”
While the Wildcats’ offense was questionable, there was little to gripe about defensively. In the opening frame, for instance, Joey Dynan erased Billerica’s Matt Grimes with a fake throw to first on a grounder. Grimes, who was leading off second, mistakenly thought the ball was gone and ran headlong into Dynan’s tag.
Wilmington scratched out a pair of one-out hits in the bottom of the first, as Tristan Ciampa and Brendon George got to Billerica starter Luke Collins, back-to-back. But Collins later struck out a pair, escaping a bases-loaded jam.
The second inning would lead to Wilmington’s eventual undoing, as Billerica rang up a pair of runs, including what proved to be the game winner. In the meantime, Coach Dynan lost the services of starter Ciampa, who was last seen icing his shoulder in the dugout. The Wildcats turned to Jack Toomey for long relief and he delivered.
“I can’t say enough about Jack,” said Dynan. “He pitched a whale of a game for us in Westford earlier in the year. Unfortunately, he lost that game on a two-out single in the final inning. Tonight, he gave up only one run in five innings and pitched out of trouble a couple of times.”
Wilmington cut the deficit in the third inning on a two-out RBI-basehit to center from George, who drove in Nico Piazza for the Wildcats’ sole run.
Billerica added insurance in the fourth. Toomey fanned the leadoff man but then walked Connor Maguire, who promptly stole second. He later scored on a ground ball out to make it 3-1.
The Wildcats threatened in their half of the middle inning, putting men in scoring position. George, who was 3-for-4 on the night, led off with a basehit. Next batter, Derek Gallucci, chopped a routine ground ball which was booted at short. Both baserunners soon advanced on a passed ball. All of a sudden, the Wildcats had two men in scoring position with Gallucci representing the tying run at second base. Vinny Scalfini gave one a ride but the Billerica right-fielder shot the ball in quickly, preventing George from tagging off third. Collins, who showed no signs of fatigue, fanned Jim McCarron to strand the runners and end the threat.
“That’s been the story of our losses,” said Dynan. “It’s all about the timing of the hits. They ended getting a couple of guys on base and got timely hits with runners in scoring position. We came up with two guys in scoring position and couldn’t get those hits. With Newton last week, we loaded the bases three times and had runners in scoring position in two others and yet we ended up in a tie.”
On two separate occasions, Wildcats’ outfielders made remarkable throws to prevent Billerica from adding to their lead. Dynan paid tribute to both.
“Brendon George in right did a great job of catching the ball and firing it in to prevent them from scoring,” the coach said. “And Jimmy McCarron was equally impressive in left.”
Over the final three innings, Wilmington sent just one hitter over the minimum to the plate. The Wildcats’ bats were quiet down the stretch.
“Psychologically, we have to get back in it and take care of business over the next two games,” said Dynan. “We do need a little help from our friends. We need Billerica to lose or tie. We find ourselves in an unenviable position of cheering for North Reading.”
Last Friday night, the Wilmington Northeast team hosted Newton and came away with a 2-2 tie. Wilmington squandered multiple scoring opportunities in the game that cost them the win.
Joey Dynan was stellar on the mound again for the Wildcats. He pitched a complete game giving up only two runs and scattering six hits. He worked overtime in this one, as the game went into extra innings with him pitching all eight frames. Once again, he appeared to get stronger as the game went on, allowing Wilmington time to come back with a chance to win.
The Wilcats had the bases loaded with one out in the first inning and couldn’t score. They would strand runners at second and third in the second inning as they were unable to get a timely hit over the first two innings.
Trailing 2-1 entering the bottom of the seventh, Garett Moretto beat out a ground ball to reach safely and Burke Zimmer lined a single to right field with both runners moving to scoring position on the throw. Nico Piazza, who caught a great game behind the plate defensively, then lined a sharp single to left to score the tying run. The left fielder made a diving play to stop the ball from getting past him which prevented the winning run to score.
With the winning run on third with one out, the Wilcats could not knock him in. After a scoreless eighth inning, the game ended in a tie due to darkness.
Wilmington took care of business against Tyngsboro on Sunday night, coming away with a 10-0 win. Jimmy McCarron was the pitching star in this one. He pitched a complete game shutout needing only 88 pitches on the evening. Vinny Scalfani, Harry Serounian, Nico Piazza, Brendon George, and Derek Gallucci all had big hits on the night.