LITTLETON -- North Middlesex traveled to Littleton for a Montachusett senior league clash with the Ayer-Shirley-Harvard-Littleton Titans Sunday afternoon. ASH used a five run, three-hit third inning to propel itself past North Middlesex, 7-3.
ASH starter James Ray (2-for-3, 2B, 2 RBI) scattered four hits over six innings of work, while whiffing five to seal the win for the hosts.
"We made all the plays," said ASH coach Steve Smith. "We had that one bad error, but we were stealing, doing the hit-and-run, and all the right things. James (Ray) was throwing strikes and getting them to hit the ball. He hit the ball and had lots of strikeouts. It was just a solid game for our team."
On the visitor's side, North Middlesex head coach Ken Brown sent starter Nick Barry to the mound, and it just wasn't his day. Barry went three innings, struck out one and surrendered seven runs on four hits and an error.
"We started out rough," Brown said. "I thought we should've made some plays in the field that we didn't make. We made Nick throw a lot of extra pitches, and I think he got a little tired. We got down big early, but we battled back."
Ray mowed down the first three batters he faced on just four pitches, with Barry and Andrew Jenna lofting lazy fly balls to center and right. The Titans wasted little time getting on the board in the bottom half of the first.
Shortstop Nick Benullo walloped a bases-clearing one-out double into left field that plated Ray and Dan Pichel, who reached on a walk, to put ASH out in front 2-0. Barry regained his composure after the missile by Beneullo and sent Adam Gagnon packing with a can of corn to shallow center field for the final out.
North Middlesex got one back in the second, when Mike Wolfgang unloaded on a fastball with two outs from Ray. Wolfgang blooped the 2-1 offering into left, plating Chris Canning, who reached on a single that squibbed through the left side of the infield. The ASH defense carried Ray out of the jam getting Wolfgang on the force-out at second to end the inning.
Barry retired the first batter he faced in the second via a ground out to third. Barry then proceeded to issue a walk to Andrew Lombardo, which set the scene for a defensive gem by Jena at second. Kevin Lewis stroked what appeared to be a surefire single to right, but Jena climbed the ladder and plucked the ball from the air and fired onto first, catching Lombardo dozing in no-man's land for the inning-ending 4-3 double play.
North Middlesex went down quietly in the third inning, leaving Bill Burns (1-for-3, stolen base) stranded at second, after he reached on a dropped third strike. ASH leadoff man Eric Kwon (1-for-2, two stolen bases) screamed a skipping single into left field to start the inning. Ray followed up the single by Kwon with an RBI laser down the third base line, which plated Kwon from second to push ASH up 3-1.
Outfielder Luke Snyder cranked a directional base hit into left field, which plated Ray from third. Two more runs scampered across in the inning to put the Titans out in front with a cozy 7-1 lead.
The North Middlesex bats fell dormant again in the fourth inning, but the defense received a slight spark when Brown went to the bullpen and brought on the dart-throwing righty Sam Ineson. Ineson struck out Lewis and Sam Presti to start the inning, but plunked the speedy Kwon with two outs. Kwon was left stranded at third, as Ray could not catch up to Ineson's fastball.
North Middlesex scored two runs in the sixth on a single and an error, but that is as close as they would get.
North Middlesex did not allow a run in the last half of the game. Mark Canning fanned the bottom third of the ASH lineup in the sixth looking.
Wolfgang paced the North Middlesex offense, going 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI.
"We had some young guys really step up and make some good plays," said Brown. "I thought Mike Wolfgang had a great game -- a single and a double. What I liked was that guys were attacking the ball more and playing less passive."