By Jim Sullivan
---- — Less than 24 hours after defeating the defending Division 3 North state champion North Reading Hornets, the Newburyport baseball team yesterday saw their season come to an end after falling to Whittier Tech 6-2 in the Division 3 North Semifinals at Fraser Field in Lynn.
“I’m proud of this team,” Clippers coach Steve Malenfant said of his squad (14-8), which ended an eight-game winning streak that included three extra-inning victories in a 72-hour span last week. “They’ve overcome adversity. People don’t know the adversity that they’ve overcome. They are truly what I would describe as the consummate team. They played true Clipper ball”
The Wildcats (14-6) sent the right-handed Andrew Wells to the mound against Newburyport lefty Connor MacRae. Wells gave up a lead-off single to Colt Fontaine on the third pitch of the first inning.
Wells got Brian Fiascone to strike out next before Colby Morris reached first base on a throwing error that put Fontaine at second base. Connor Wile sent a single up the middle next to load the bases with one out for MacRae, who sent a single to second, where Morris was caught, but Fontaine slipped in the back door for the Clippers’ first run of the day.
MacRae walked the first Wildcat to step to the plate, Nathan Frongillo, who stole second before Alex LoGiudice walked, then Anthony Licciardello sent a single past third to load the bases with no outs. Wells lined out to shortstop Morris before Jaylin Deveau tied things up with a single to short that saw Licciardello forced out at second. Josh Barton sent a double out to centerfield that plated two more runs before Jorge Martinez struck out swinging to end the inning.
Wells found his groove in the top of the second inning, sitting down the Clippers 1-2-3; MacRae did the same in the bottom of the frame.
Wells showed some spark at the plate himself in the bottom of the third inning, sending a triple out to right field. But Wells was denied the chance to score when Deveau sent a screamer to second and Fiascone made a dramatic diving catch to send the Wildcats back out to the field.
The Clippers let a terrific opportunity go to waste in the top of the fourth inning where MacRae reached first on a single before going to second on a perfect bunt from Ian Michaels. Freshman stand-out Scott Webster sent a single past second base next to load the bases with no outs before Chance Carpenter struck out looking. Senior Mike Sweeney bunted on, catching MacRae at the plate, and Fontaine grounded out to third to get Wells out of the jam.
“Whittier did a hell of a job,” said Malenfant. “We scrambled as much as we could. We put runners in scoring position, but unfortunately today, we couldn’t get the hits at critical times.”
Connor Manning bunted on for the Wildcats to start the bottom of the fifth inning then went to second on a bunt bid from Frongillo. LoGiudice made it to first on an error at second base that sent Manning to third and Licciardello then plated both runners with a double out to center that kept on rolling.
MacRae reached again in the top of the sixth inning on an error at first then scored on a triple from Webster that almost saw the young player caught at third. Carpenter drew a walk next and then stole second on the first pitch to Sweeney, who grounded out to first. Fontaine was intentionally walked to load the bases in the next at-bat, but Fiascone was caught looking to get Wells out of his second bases-loaded jam of the afternoon.
Kyle Flanagan sent a double out to right to chase MacRae from the game in the bottom of the sixth. Evan Habib came in to relieve MacRae and allowed Flanagan to score on a wild pitch before making it out of the inning.
“I am just so honored to play with this group of seniors,” said senior co-captain Ryan Short. “My dad has always talked to me about the honor of playing in a Clipper uniform and I can’t think of a better group to be captain for and I’m very proud of the way we played this year after a tough start and I wish nothing but the best for every one of these guys.”