NEWBURYPORT — Deliberately moved ahead 24 hours in hopes of avoiding today's poor weather predictions, the River Rival showdown between the Newburyport and Triton baseball squads featured one team soaking up a few extra rays.
Behind the bat of Matt Mottola (2-for-4, 2 HR, 3 RBIs) and the arm of Tom Morris (13Ks, 3 hits, a walk, an earned run), the Clippers (2-1) scored four runs in the bottom of the fifth and the sixth innings en route to a 9-1 victory over the Vikings (0-2).
Pushing their only run across the plate in the initial inning — a Bryan Walsh (2-for-3, run) single and an error on Andrew Fecteau's (RBI) groundball between first and second — the Vikings and their pitcher, Jake Martin (10 hits, 9 earned runs, 3 Ks, 3 walks), managed to keep the Clippers off the right field scoreboard until Mottola stepped up to the plate for his first at-bat and crushed a 1-1 pitch over the wall in right-center field.
With the game tied, the Vikings struggled from there on out, managing only two more base-runners.
"Our guy, Jake Martin, though he's not an overpowering pitcher, does a good job of forcing guys to swing the bat and put the ball in play," said Triton coach Steve Padovani. "And though I think he did a good job throughout the game, I just don't think we made the plays behind him.
"We had some costly errors, and offensively, I have to tip my cap to Tommy Morris. He's a nice pitcher, but we made him look like Josh Beckett today. Our approach at the plate was terrible, and it was a pretty ugly game in all facets."
Morris, who was mowing down Vikings with regularity and threw four 1-2-3 innings, may have had his most dominant game as a Newburyport hurler.
"I felt good," Morris said. "My arm was nice and stretched out before the game — I managed to warm up a little longer than usual today.
"I think it comes down to how hard we've been working in practice. We've been running a lot of hills, and I think it's been showing because my leg power really helped me push off the mound today."
The bottom of the fifth began with an epic at-bat by Ben Tyler (1-for-2, run, walk, stolen base), who after 12 pitches, found the gap in right field, seemingly igniting his Clipper brethren to do the same.
"Unbelievable. Ben Tyler had the best at-bat this team has had in two seasons for us," said Clipper coach Bill Pettingell. "It was a good visual for everyone else. That was a game changing at-bat."
Following suit, D.J. Grabowski (walk, run) sac-bunted, pushing Tyler to second, and then after a ball in the dirt, Tyler jogged over to third. With two outs, Tyler Stotz (2-for-3, 3 RBIs, 2 runs, stolen base, walk) singled past Triton first baseman Mike Speicher, driving in Tyler, and then promptly stole second. On a 2-1 pitch, Joe Clancy (2-for-4, 2 doubles, 2 RBIs, run) doubled to left, and drove in Stotz for the Clippers' third run.
Capping off the fifth in dramatic fashion, Mottola belted the first pitch he saw over the left field wall for his second home run and third RBI of the game.
Perhaps more than any other batter in the River Rival Region, Newburyport's Mottola has been on a tear: hitting his fourth long-ball in three games.
"Well, I had zero last year," Mottola said. "I've been staying after practice trying to get some more at-bats in, and it's worked because I've been able to get some hits."
His coach agreed that his hard work is coming to fruition.
"Matt was struggling earlier, but he got in the weight room, and he's really playing great," Pettingell said. "He hit a bomb during an East Boston scrimmage, then crushed one against Haverhill that went about 400, and then against Pentucket, he hit one that would've left any major league stadium in America — except Fenway Park, because it just wasn't high enough. It was still rising on its way out."
The bottom of the sixth featured some more timely Clipper hitting.
After a Ryan O'Connor (1-for-3) pop fly fell in left (Shane Stevens, run, pinch-ran), Grabowski walked, Kyle LeBlanc (1-for-4, RBI, run) doubled, Stotz singled, Clancy doubled, and before all was said and done, four more Clipper players crossed home.
Mottola was pleased to see how well his entire team played.
"It was nice," Mottola said. "Our defense was great. Morris just pitched awesome, and the bats turned around today as well, so that was really great to see."
Despite losing to Haverhill in the season-opener, Pettingell believes his team is about to turn a corner.
"Some of these kids have put a lot of pressure on themselves because they know what's expected of them," Pettingell said. "But I think it was the first time this season the kids have totally relaxed.
"This is one of those games, which you hope to see a lot of, where you put the three parts of the game together; we had great pitching from Tommy, strong defense, and some solid hitting."
Though winless, with the season still young, Padovani is optimistic his team can mature into a more well-rounded club.
"We're going to regroup, and we certainly won't quit," Padovani said. "We have a bunch of tough kids in the dugout who battle and work hard for each other, and we'll come back with a nice strong practice.
"We're going to change our philosophy at the plate. We lost our one through six players in the lineup, so we're going to have win games by doing the little things and putting the ball in play, and that's certainly something we didn't do today."
Newburyport's Kyle McElroy (1-for-3, stolen base) and Triton's Blaise Whitman (1-for-2, stolen base) were also productive.