By Matt Stewart
FITCHBURG -- The North Middlesex Regional baseball team found itself in a close battle with Fitchburg on Monday afternoon, but the Patriots snapped into form late to secure an 8-3 victory over the Red Raiders at Fitchburg High School.
The Patriots extend their winning streak to three games, improving to 3-1, while Fitchburg remains winless.
"Monday games are always tough and we came off a big win on Friday," North Middlesex head coach Tom Bartelson said. "I think we came out with big heads, spotted them a couple of runs and let them stay around for a while, but we were over thinking things. Once we started settling down, and getting some hits, the offense came alive."
It was just a two-run game at 5-3 heading into the top of the sixth inning, when the Patriots got some separation. Tyler MacDonald walked and Rich Sharp connected on a line drive to put runners on the corners. Following the second out of the inning, MacDonald ended up scoring on a successful double steal, which lifted the lead to 6-3.
Ben Wright reached on an infield hit to put runners on the corners again. John Boutwell then took one for the team, getting hit to load the bases. James Ciampa, another late addition to the contest, played the hero when he connected on a two-run flare to left field, which made it 8-3.
But the Red Raiders made a game of it early on.
Fitchburg had jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, getting on the board with a Darius Flowers RBI double.
Flowers pitched well early for the Red Raiders, but a couple errors and a tough inning would later do the Fitchburg ace in.
North Middlesex was able to take its first lead of the game in the top half of the third inning. Sharp -- who tallied four hits in the game -- reached on an infield hit with two outs and an error on a ball hit by Shawn Pinney's put runners on the corners.
Fitchburg's catcher attempted to nab Pinney stealing, but the throw was off, allowing Sharp to score the tying run. Wright then came through with a line drive to center, putting the Patriots ahead 2-1.
To the Red Raiders' credit they responded a half inning later, working some two out magic. Joel Luna reached with two outs on a hit to right field, then Flowers drilled a shot over the center fielder's head, giving him plenty of time to reach third and tie the game up at 2-2.
Diosmar Reynoso singled on a chopper down the left field line, putting the Raiders back up on top, 3-2.
The back-and-forth affair continued in the top half of the fourth inning. MacDonald plated a run on a single to centerfield and following a Sharp single, Pinney connected on a blooper to right, which extended the Patriots' lead to 5-3.
"I told these guys once they get the lead, they need to get that killer instinct and finish them off," Bartelson said. "Finally starting to hit the ball got us going."
North Middlesex's pitching quieted the Fitchburg bats from there, only allowing one base runner over the next two innings.
James Ciampa provided some stellar relief down the stretch, along with Sam Ineson closing things out.
"Once the confidence came in they started playing a lot better." Bartleson said.